George Saunders, Going Big

Nina Siegal has posted the full text of an interview she conducted with George Saunders around the time of his 2006 story collection, In Persuasion Nation. The conversation is a smart and wide-ranging one, covering satire, the role of fiction in American society today, the post-9/11 novel, theme parks, the meaning of “experimental” literature, and more. I was particularly struck by Saunders’ cri de coeur about his own struggles with being both “popular” and “niche”:

[P]ersonally I’ve been frustrated to some extent by my inability to draw a bigger audience and I’ve been doing a lot of soul-searching about why this is. Is it because I’m so smart? That would be nice. But somehow I doubt it. Then I wonder is it because I am doing fancy-pants Elitist art moves, too insecure to be a real populist? Am I being punished for being a product and landlord of the MFA Ghetto? Possibly. Or is because the Masses are drones? Well, I think of Dickens: he did okay. But then I think of “Swapping Proctologists” and think, well, hmm, maybe they are Drones. My secret fear is that I am somehow writing in a way that both 1) pre-guarantees a small audience and 2) stems from some flaw in my personality, ie, I am not big-hearted enough to write something that ‘most’ (more?) people could read and enjoy and be moved by.

My resolution is to try and make my writing as big as I can while, at
the same time, recognizing that many of the best effects available in
fiction are highwire effects that the majority of readers might not be
ready for.

One thought on “George Saunders, Going Big

  1. What a great piece by Siegal! I am so glad I found it – it provided a new perspective on Saunders and his fiction, as well as difficult questions to ponder regarding fiction, culture, and what we are willing to read.
    Thanks for sharing!

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