Acclaimed Author George Saunders Reads from “Tenth of December” in Memorial Chapel

Critically acclaimed short story author George Saunders visited campus on Tuesday, September 10, as part of the Living Writers series. Saunders delivered a reading of his story “Victory Lap” at Memorial Chapel.

Saunders’ “Tenth of December” was chosen as the book for the first annual Colgate Reads program, a new initiative as part of the Living Writers series.

The program’s coordinators, Thomas A. Bartlett Chair and Professor of English and Chair of the English Department Jane Pinchin and Associate Professor of English Jennifer Brice, aimed to have 2,013 members of the Colgate and

Hamilton communities (in honor of Colgate’s lucky number) pledge to read “Tenth of December.” As of Tuesday afternoon, the goal had been exceeded, with more than 2,100 individuals participating.

The book was also the first-year required reading, and was discussed during first-year seminars.

One of the main characters in “Victory Lap” was inspired in part, according to Saunders, from the main character in Anton Chekhov’s story “After the Theatre.” After reading the story, Saunders fielded a question and answer session, following which he signed books.

     Saunders’ first set of short stories, “CivilWarLand in Bad Decline” was published in 1996. Following its publication he and David Foster Wallace, who had recently published “Infinite Jest” were described by the New York Times as, “writers…busy establishing the new terms for contemporary American fiction.”

“Tenth of December” is Saunders’ fourth short story collection; its title derives from the last story it features, which revolves around a slightly nerdy adolescent and a middle-aged man suffering from illness. Most of the stories are either speculative fiction – fiction which occurs in a near or indeterminate future – or futuristic.

Saunders is currently a professor in the creative writing program at Syracuse University, from which he also received a Master’s degree in creative writing. Many of Saunders’ stories either explicitly or seem to take place in the landscapes of upstate New York; Saunders attributed this as coincidence from spending time around Syracuse, rather than as calculated.

Saunders studied engineering as an undergraduate, earning a Bachelor’s in geophysical engineering from the Colorado School of Mines, and worked for several years as a technical writer at an environmental engineering firm.

Due to this background, Saunders considers his writing to be quite precise and logical. Most of his stories took months, if not years, to evolve to the states in which they were ultimately published. A few stories even began as dreams, including “The Semplica Girl Diaries,” an eerie commentary on class and appearances.

Saunders’ work has been published in “The New Yorker,” “Harper’s” and “McSweeney’s.” He has also received fellowships from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the Guggenheim Foundation, in addition to the MacArthur Fellowship.

On the evening of Monday, September 9, Pinchin and Brice hosted an online discussion with Saunders for participants of Colgate Reads. On Tuesday, Saunders visited the Living Writers class, an English class taught by both Pinchin and Brice.

During the Living Writers session, Saunders spoke of his views of being a writer, especially one described as often writing on “dark” subjects.

“[Writers] come to the realization that even though they are flawed, they know certain things about the world that can be helpful to others,” Saunders said. “Writing is about being in intense communication with the reader, and let them know others have gone through whatever they are.”

Saunders explained the rigor and detail with which he writes, where “one little brushstroke” can keep a reader and “pull the story or character into reality.”

“I thought he was very personable,” senior Maite Cubilette, a student in the Living Writers class, said.

“His reading ‘Victory Lap’ brought a whole other dimension to the story,” Cubilette said. “And, learning about his writing process brought a lot of light to ‘Tenth of December’ in general.”

The next installment of the Living Writers series will be a public reading by Gary Shteyngart, author of “Super Sad True Love Story,” on Thursday, September 19 at 4:20 pm in Persson Auditorium.

Contact Selina Koller at [email protected].