Interview with George Saunders

Bearded Book Boys (BBB): It’s been just over 20 years since your first short story collection was released. Was there a feeling of pressure to finally write a novel?

George Saunders (GS): Honestly, no.  And in some paradoxical way, my genuine disinterest in writing a novel helped make this one possible.  What I mean is, I felt pretty free to do whatever needed to honor the emotional beauty of the cure incident that inspired the story, without too many “novelistic” preconceptions.  So when the form wanted to be odd, I felt happy to let it.

BBB: What was the feeling like when you finished Lincoln in the Bardo? Different from finishing any other project or were you able to just move on to the next thing?

GS: It left me in this interesting state of creative engagement – very energized.  In that state, I finished a short story that ran in The New Yorker, a TV pilot, and a non-fiction piece about the Trump campaign for The New Yorker.  It was a kind of artistic elation or exhilaration.

BBB: An incredible amount of research undoubtedly went into writing Lincoln. What is your research process, especially for something as delicate as this?

GS: I just read and read anything and everything I could find about Lincoln, without any system or method, trusting in artistic serendipity; like: what I needed would be found, and what I found (and that stuck with me) would prove necessary.

BBB: During the research for this novel did you find anything completely bizarre or fascinating, but that didn’t get included in the text?

GS: Well, what really struck me was the incredible heroism and resilience of the African-American community through this whole period and since: one of the great triumphal narratives in world history.  Not only that such a terribly and systematically abused population survived, but that it thrived, and how essential this story has been to the positive and durable and love-laced parts of what we know now as America.

BBB: The number of short stories you’ve written vastly outnumbers the novels or even novellas, do you think this trend will continue or did you enjoy writing a full length novel?

GS: I enjoyed it but have found that the best approach for me is to just start writing something that interests me on the sentence-level and wait for it to tell me how long it wants to be.

BBB: What books are you most looking forward to reading this year?

GS: Jonathan Dee, on of my favorite writers, has a new novel coming out.  I also just read a wonderful piece by Wyatt Mason, on the French writer Carrere, and am going to read “The Kingdom.”

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