#6: George Saunders 2016

The Writer as Wake-Up Artist, March 3, 2017

Essayist, short story writer, and novelist George Saunders talks with poet Lew Klatt about plastic gas stations, mini salsa cannons, talking to Tolstoy, the inner Catholic nun hat, compassion training wheels, and stories that burp out endings. Saunders describes how he learned to stop imitating admired writers and instead draw from his Southside Chicago childhood, using outlandish humor and relentless revision to create stories that make readers feel a little bit more in the world, a little more awake. Opening conversation with host Lisa Ann Cockrel and fiction writer Kirstin Valdez Quade.


RESOURCES

  • George Saunders,
    • The Tenth of December
    • The Braindead Megaphone, “The Perfect Gerbil”
    • In Persuasion Nation
    • Pastoralia, “Sea Oak”
  • Tobias Wolff, “Hunters in the Snow”
  • David Foster Wallace
  • Anton Chekhov, “Grief”
  • Donald Barthelme, “The School”
  • TRANSCRIPT

Intro

[music]

Lisa Ann Cockrel (host): [00:00:00] Welcome to Rewrite Radio, the podcast from the Festival of Faith & Writing. I’m Lisa Ann Cockrel, the director of the Festival, and I’ll be your host.

This is the place you can listen back to conversations we’ve had with writers and readers as we’ve celebrated the written word together for over two decades. In each episode, you’ll hear a session that took place at the Festival. It might be a reading, an interview, a lecture, a panel conversation, or something else entirely.

Our sponsor this week is Eerdmans Publishing, which has just released a new book from Russell Rathbun titled The Great Wall of China and the Salton Sea. What can Madame Maus’ gang of four, the great flood, the Tower of Babel, and other monumental missteps teach us about human ambition and the mind of God? Find out in Rathbun’s wise and cheeky post-modern Midrash, The Great Wall of China and the Salton Sea, available wherever books are sold, including Eerdmans.com.

On today’s episode of Rewrite Radio, we’ll listen to George Saunders in an onstage conversation with Lew Klatt at the 2016 Festival of Faith & Writing. A widely celebrated author of essays, short stories, and now his first novel, Lincoln and the Bardo, Saunders discussed a wide range of topics, including the intimacy of storytelling, how weird narratives work to disrupt moral cul-de-sacs, and creative writing as a form of play.

To help introduce Saunders’ interview, I called up Kirstin Valdez Quade, who we were also lucky enough to have speak at the 2016 Festival. Kirstin wrote the critically-acclaimed short-story collection Night at the Fiestas, and her own fiction has appeared in the New Yorker and The Best American Short Stories, among other places. She’s also an assistant professor at Princeton University.

Conversation

[music, phone ringing]

Kirstin Valdez Quade: [00:01:40] Hello?

Lisa: Hi, Kirstin, this is Lisa.

Kirstin: Lisa, how are you?

Lisa: I’m good, how are you?

Kirstin: Good. It’s so nice to hear your voice.

Lisa: Likewise. Where did we catch you?

Kirstin:  I am at my grandmother’s house in Santa Fe right now.

Lisa: Oh, lovely. For those who listen to Rewrite Radio, they learned a little bit about your grandmother in your session at the 2016 Festival. Thanks so much for joining us there and telling us your story and her story.

Kirstin: Oh, well, it was a joy to be there, and it’s such a joy to be talking to you again and about George Saunders, whom I admire so much.

Lisa: It was so fun to have him at the 2016 Festival. When did you first come across his work?

Kirstin: The first story I read was “I Can Speak,” which was in The New Yorker. I read that when I was in my very first creative writing workshop. It’s such a, it’s not one of his most commonly anthologized stories. It’s this epistolary story from the point of view of a customer service representative of a company that sells this crazy dystopian baby product. It’s a mask that fits over the face of an actual baby and pipes language, sophisticated language into the baby’s mouth, so he’s responding to complaint letters. And over the course of the story, the real humanity and pain of this poor guy comes out, and I remember just being so impressed by just how imaginative the piece was and how very funny and also incredibly painful. I typically tend to write and read and adore work that is more realist. And so it was such a wonderful opening to read this story and to be so moved by it: moved to laughter [laughter] and moved to real emotion.

Lisa: Yeah, he mentions in this interview we’re about to listen to that maybe the conventional modes of narrative can’t disturb the moral cul-de-sacs of our time. Which I think is an interesting, something he’s really working on is how to disrupt our innate pieties about how things are, I think.

Kirstin: Absolutely. His stories do what the best literature does, which is to make us see our own world anew, to make us experience it anew. And he talks about that in the interview about after reading really good work the reader feels, I think he says, feels more alive for a few moments. And that’s absolutely how I feel after reading Saunders’ work. I teach The Tenth of December about the collection, and the first story in that collection, “Victory Lap,” I teach pretty frequently, and I just love that story. I love it for the expansiveness and humanity and generosity toward these characters that he also pokes fun at.

Lisa: [00:05:21] Right.

Kirstin: It’s both of those things. He pokes fun without ever being cruel which I think is a hard line to walk.

Lisa: Yeah.

Kirstin: And I think one of the things I admire so much about Saunders, and I feel it especially in his last collection, The Tenth of December, is how willing he is to flirt with sentimentality, to get right up against the edge of that. He never teeters into it, but he’s willing to feel and to feel deeply and to make the reader feel deeply about his characters. And I think that that’s not as common as it should be in contemporary fiction. I think a lot of fiction is very defended and there’s an ironic distance. There’s so much fear of being sentimental and being cheesy, because sentimentality is dishonest. And yet, really honest literature is literature that’s willing to look at that emotion and to express deep emotion without self-consciousness, with real courage, and without it teetering [laughs] into the sentimental. And I just admire that so much about “Victory Lap” certainly, about The Tenth of December. They’re such deeply felt stories.

[music]

Lisa: Indeed. Well, thank you so much for taking some time today to talk about Saunders’ work. It’s been a pleasure.

Kirstin: Thank you, Lisa. Bye bye.

Lisa: Bye.

Session

[music]

Lisa: [00:07:14] And now George Saunders, introduced and interviewed by Calvin College English professor Lew Klatt at the 2016 Festival of Faith & Writing.

A note for our listeners: this recording does include content and strong language that might not be suitable for children.

Lew Klatt: [00:07:33] Welcome everyone. My name is Lew Klatt, and it’s my happy task today to throw some questions at storyteller and essayist George Saunders. George Saunders has the distinction of perhaps being the Festival author most blurbed by other Festival authors. [audience laughter] Zadie Smith, for example, our plenary speaker for last night, once compared his satirizing wit to the sharp humor of Mark Twain. Tobias Wolff, who held forth in the Festival’s opening session, has extolled his scary and unforgettable originality. I half expect Nadia Bolz-Weber to charge the stage right now [audience laughter] and knock me out of the way so she, too, can get the chance to sing his praises.

One of the first things that strikes you about the strange fiction of George Saunders is the adventurousness of it. In fact, the predicaments he imagines for his characters are so outlandish that it often takes more than a few pages to get oriented. By the end of a Saunders story, you’re not always sure what exactly has happened, [audience laughter] but you’ve been wildly entertained, and you suspect that behind the highly-crafted hilarity and bewilderment lies something that matters.

This is not simply because the surprising turns his stories take make you feel like someone has moved your cheese, [audience laughter] insert here your own preferred corporate catch-phrase, though that’s a sensation his freaks of fiction can inspire, but because for all his outrageousness, Saunders tells a story that probes tender spots close to home. Sometimes a little too close to home. It turns out that his invented worlds make obvious distortions that we take for normal. Insecurities we didn’t know we harbored. Compromises that quietly erode us.

[00:10:02] We walk away from his narratives recognizing that it’s Saunders that has told the truth, told it plainly, told it like it is. We’re the ones who are pretending. For his ingenuity in telling the human story, Saunders has been named one of Entertainment Weekly’s top 100 creative people, [audience laughter] a Guggenheim Fellow, and a MacArthur Genius Grant recipient. His collection of stories, Tenth of December, the most recent of his fiction books, was a National Book Award finalist. Saunders teaches in the MFA program at Syracuse University where he has been a professor of English for the last twenty years, and where he delivered the commencement address for the class of 2013, an address which exhorted the graduates in their pursuit of careers and wealth and other kinds of worldliness to err in the direction of kindness.

Please welcome to the Festival of Faith & Writing, George Saunders. [applause]

George Saunders: Thank you, it’s good to be here. Hi everybody. Thank you, Lew, that was beautiful. I think we should just end it right there. [laughter]

Lew: [jokingly] I’d be happier.

George: Yeah. What you said was right, have a good day. [audience laughs]

Lew: Alright. There are lots of questions I’d like to ask you. Yeah, let’s turn toward each other. [audience laughter] There are lots of questions I’d like to ask you, but let’s start with something you wrote in your essay, “The Perfect Gerbil,” which is the best title ever for an essay. [audience laughter] “The Perfect Gerbil.” That essay is your analysis of Donald Barthelme’s story, “The School.” You write: “Barthelme knows that the narrative pattern of fiction is just an excuse for the real work of the story, which is to give the reader a series of pleasure-bursts.” And that’s a very felicitous phrasing, “pleasure-bursts.” Can you talk about the way pleasure energizes stories or Barthelme’s story, or other stories that you find extremely pleasurable.

George: Sure. My trajectory, I was from Chicago, from the south side, didn’t know any artists or writers, and so, as a kind of a working-class person aspiring to art, my first assumption was that it could have nothing to do with me. [Lew laughs] Art had to be that series of things you couldn’t quite do. So there was a long period of slavishly over-intellectualizing the process. So I would read Hemingway and almost like with pincers, “Where did it get me? Okay, I’ll try to do that.” Very, almost engineering work. And then late in the game I had a revelation which was for me, the kind of energy I felt as a kid watching George Carlin or Monty Python or my uncles who were really funny, that that energy wasn’t going to be, the only literature I could only make would thrive on that energy, rather than on some conceptualized or intellectual precepts.

So that was a big breakthrough to go, “Yeah, all my life I’ve got myself out of trouble by being funny, or into trouble being funny, [audience laughter] but it would be weird if this 300-page thing called a book would come into existence without any reference to that which I did in real life.”

Lew: Yeah.

George: So then, when I had that idea, suddenly it was a way to proceed, to say, “Yeah, my job as a story-writer is to, all you have to do is start. From there it’s my responsibility to keep you compelled and finish the book.” And the realization that without that, if you don’t finish the story, there’s no politics, there’s no spirituality, there’s nothing, there’s just some closed book and you’re playing Angry Birds or something. [Lew laughs]

So for me it was kind of a simplifying precept to say, “My job is to keep the reader on the hook.” And now, in that Barthelme story, I hit on this idea that, when we were kids there was this Hot Wheels set that had a little plastic gas station, everybody’s seen this, but in the gas station were two rubber wheels that would rotate. And the thing was, you pushed your car in there and it would spit it out at high velocity. And, if you arrange it right, you could run it through the whole house and it would still be going when you came home from school. [audience laughter] Not that anybody did that.

Lew: But did you ever do that?

George: [00:15:07] No, no of course not. But I think that’s actually a great model for a story. We just have to keep the car going on the track. Then, what I tell my students at Syracuse is, “Your job is to find the three or four plastic gas stations that you have that can cause what? Nothing intellectual, nothing fancy, to cause the reader to keep going.” Sometimes it’s a joke, sometimes it’s a nature description, sometimes it’s the frankness of tone. But that is really what you need, and those gas stations, I tell my students, can’t possibly be unrelated to who you are as a human being. The normal way you charm people and you engage people. Of course, it’s a rarified version, and it’s easier said than done that we would accept who we actually are and make art out of that, but that I think is the basis of that essay, yeah.

Lew: Who does that well? Who are the pleasure bursters, as it were?

George: I think every writer that we love, I would argue. I think because it’s a little bit like a seduction of sorts. David Foster Wallace is a writer I really love, and I knew him pretty well, and what you saw on the page was very much what you saw in person, but again, purified and rarified and made into art. But one of the things that, if you read Dave, one of the things that gets engaged is a certain impatience. You know, he really talks, he really goes and goes. Well, what I noticed reading him is that feeling gets brought up in a reader, that bit of resistance, then just about when you can’t take it, he’ll say some unbelievably brilliant thing that cuts right to who you are as a human being and you are suddenly reengaged.

Just like if you’re on a date and your date is droning, droning, droning, droning, and you’re about to get up and leave, and suddenly he says something really amazing, well, you’ve just reupped for another round, you know. So I think this is the way writers work. [audience laughter]. This may be more about my dating life [jokingly], but I think for those of us who are readers, we go through that process all the time. We see our resistance rising, and if we’re a half-way decent reader, resistance doesn’t mean that you shut the book, but resistance rises. A good writer knows that somehow.

“I’m waxing philosophical, I better put a fart joke in.” Or, “I’ve had nine fart jokes, I’d better wax philosophical for a while.” [audience laughter] But this is very empowering for writers because what it means is whatever you have is sufficient. Now, the minute we try to deny what we have and try to be somebody else, then it’s trouble, but if you accept who you are, you’ll know how to deal with your strengths and weaknesses. We do, we do it all the time.

Lew: So that seems to argue for a kind of integrity between the writer and the writing.

George: Yes, exactly, and it also argues for an intimacy between reader and writer. I would say a good work of any kind of prose is maybe the most intimate conversation you can have with another human being. “Here’s what I have,” and the reader rises to the bait, albeit with some resistance. “Yes, I agree,” and you have this kind of back-and-forth. For me, it’s a little bit like a motorcycle sidecar thing. [Lew laughs] So in a good story those things are so close to touching shoulders, and when the writer goes left, the reader goes, “I’m with ya’. You’re scaring me!” [audience laughter] But in a bad story, there’s three miles between, “I’m going left,” and he goes, “Who, what’re we talking about?”

So my thing is through revision, what I’m trying to do is imagine my reader so well and so lovingly that we are almost fused at the shoulder and when I go left, she goes, “Oh yeah, you’ve pinned me into a corner, I have to go there with you.” And that’s where emotion comes from in a story.

Lew: So we can’t write to avoid being intimate, is what you’re saying.

George: You can. [laughter] We do. But I think that’s what revision is, it’s say, “I’m not crediting my reader with enough intelligence, and therefore the reader would feel a distance between the two of us and that’s not acceptable.”

Lew: Okay, so given that as you’ve said before, the writer’s main job is to provide a wild ride for the reader, how would you say the writer can avoid pandering to an audience that most of the time prefers entertainment to self-examination.

George: I don’t think those two things are at all separate. I mean, what’s more entertaining than having someone speak the most intimate truth? What’s more entertaining?  If I could read a mind out there and go, “Hey, Phil, I know what you want to know.” Boom. “I know what you’re worried about. I know what you’re scared about.” What’s more entertaining than that? Nothing actually. So for me, also this is partly my, my background is that I get the most insightful when I try to be the most entertaining. That’s a quirk of my south side of Chicago personality. But I think the idea that you’re trying to imagine the most intelligent, worldly, in a good way, experienced human being, and then talk directly to her, that’s always going to be entertaining. Who doesn’t like that? Who doesn’t like being valued in conversation?

Lew: [00:20:31] So you would collapse the distinction between average reader and intelligent reader that O’Connor puts forward as what she’s aiming for both the average reader and the intelligent reader, like Shakespeare, the average?

George: I think I agree with it, but the way I tend to think of it, and all this is pragmatic, how can I get work done, but the way I think about it is, let’s pretend that there’s no such thing as an unintelligent reader, and that even if somebody is maybe not inclined to like my style of writing, if I assume that they’ll get it, a certain number of them will. And just like in life, if you look at somebody and say, “He’s probably not very smart,” but if you say, “Well, I’m going to talk to you as if you’re more intelligent than I am,” who doesn’t rise to that occasion? Well, some people don’t. [audience laughter] But you’re none the worse for having tried that, to assume someone’s more intelligent that you doesn’t cost you anything, unless you’re a heart surgeon and they’re actually stupider than you are, then it costs you something. [audience laughter] Then it’s complicated.

Lew: So entertainment, alright, and laughter, you talk a lot about that, and our need for it. Why do we need comedy? What’s humor’s relationship to truth telling? You’re a big fan of Twain, is that right?

George: Sure. I think humor is just, you know if somebody farts in an elevator... [audience laughter]

Lew: That’s not funny. [audience laughs]

George: It’s already funny. But it’s funny. I think George Cronley, everybody knows who did it. If two people are in an elevator, everybody knows who did it. So humor essentially, I think, is simply speaking a truth that’s already ambient. And for whatever reason, politeness or timidity, we don’t speak the ambient truth. So in a sense laughter is a form of relief. If somebody’s saying something ridiculous, there’s tension. If someone points it out, we laugh in relief. So that’s my kind of clinical answer. In fact, Flannery O’Connor said this beautiful thing, she said, “A writer can choose what he writes, but he can’t choose what he makes live.” So the real answer is: I can get energy out of the prose I’m writing when I consent to being funny. Or when I steer towards my natural inclination.

Even if somebody can say to me, “Humor is an inferior form of fiction,” I would still say, well, it’s what I got. [audience laughter] And it’s not as inferior as the fiction I get when I avoid being funny. [audience laughter]

Lew: So what would you say to your students or writers in the audience who don’t really write funny fiction?

George: It’s great. I mean, Henry James is not exactly a...

Lew: He’s a knee-slapper. [audience laughter]

George: But he’s a great writer. So what we’re trying to do is we’re trying to find a mode of expression that sits comfortably on who we actually are. And it’s not that the humorous way is the best, it’s just mine. So I think all of us, and we all know this from the way we cloak ourselves in a personality, as some point in your life you get tired of falsifying and you just want to be who you are. And I think what readers like is when they can sense that a writer is being just who she is meant to be. And I think from a larger standpoint, what we have is thousands of people, great artists who are being authentically what they want to be, which one of them is right? All of them. The collection is somehow ennobling for all of us. It’s not that you have to see them the right way of thinking or living.

So I have students who aren’t funny naturally and who try to be, and I try to dissuade them from that because it’s anti-energetic, it doesn’t... But more often than not, there’s people who, I mean, imitation is part of the game at that stage, it’s honorable. So what we do at Syracuse, last year we had, this year 650 applications for 6 spots. So they are already great. So you’re just trying to find a way to help them or guide them to do the set of things that only they can do. And that’s sort of a subtle thing, you know.

Lew: Yeah. Your longest story, In Persuasion Nation, it’s one of the craziest pieces of fiction I’ve ever read, [audience laughter] though I would argue it’s not an outlier.

George: [00:25:02] No, it’s only a little crazier than the other ones.

Lew: Right, right. For those of you who haven’t read it, there’s a lot of wackiness going on, including inanimate objects that are characters, such as a bag of Doritos that confronts and then decapitates a young man... [audience laughter]

George: What’s weird about that?

Lew: Right, right. And a Wendy’s chicken boat combo, which is shaped like a ship and fires mini salsa cannons. [audience laughter] Yeah. It’s a story that seems almost on the verge of nonsense, and it’s one of the things I’m really interested in in your work. It’s as if you’re intentionally pushing language to the breaking point. Beyond what it’s capable of. Do you ever feel like you’re going too far?

George: Yeah, on that one I went way too... And then I scrolled it back in to get what you have there. [laughter] I mean, here’s my working assumption is that a short story is not life. It’s not a simulacrum of life. It’s maybe, we don’t know what it is actually. It’s a box we go into to be stimulated, and when we come out we feel vaguely that the simulation was profitable for us. So that’s what it is, actually. So my thing is if somebody said to me, “Write a story where there’s two talking staples and a pencil sharpener.” Sure. The thing is it’s a story means organically by how it proceeds, given its starting point. The fact that it’s staples and a pencil sharpener, what’s gonna get into that story. Me, of course, if you write it. No matter that you’ve got this weird facade, the working through the story’s issues through many, many revisions is going to make it profound if you’re patient enough to see it through. The story will make certain problems of silliness and all that, but if you keep working on it, it will eventually throw off meaning.

But in that story, I felt like I wanted to just be pure out funny without any thought about human values for a change. I wanted to do stand-up, and I did it for about three months, and then the story wasn’t working, so I had to go back in and kind of titrate in actual values. My thing is, we live a short time, I’ve chosen this art form. Let’s get out on the perimeter and see what we can do.

Chekhov is my big hero, and I think, “Alright, if I had the talking stapler story, I would like for Chekhov to be able to read it and not be disgusted.” [audience laughter] So he would read it, of course he’s dead, so that is kind of... But, you know, for somebody like Chekhov, or for that matter Tobias Wolff, I want him to be about to read a story and say, “Okay, your method is strange, but your intention is the same old good-fashioned intention, which is to show the heart in conflict with the self.” And you touch in your beautiful introduction you touch on this idea: it might be that in order to do that old-fashioned work, we have to use really strange new materials.

Or another way of saying it, it might be that the kind of moral cul-de-sacs and difficulties we get to in our particular time will not be rattled by conventional realist narrative. In other words, there are things happening in contemporary classical music that are so strange and percussive and weird, but they produce very strong emotions that couldn’t be produced by the classical toolbox.

So I think that’s part of, again, that’s an after-the-fact rationalization. But there are moments in the story, you know I revise them for many, many years, and, at the end, sometimes they just pop in ways that really I didn’t expect. And sometimes in those moments I think, “Yeah, that’s actually what life feels like to me more than anything else, that moment that I got through weirdness.” So in that model, as you said, the weirdness is a means to the old classical end of trying to understand what we’re doing on the planet.

Lew: You mentioned Chekhov, and speaking to your literary mentors in your writing, and the more I’m around and the more I talk to writers like yourself, the more I hear that, that the specific audience you’re writing for often is someone who lived a hundred years ago.

George: [00:29:39] Sure, yeah. It’s like in spiritual practice, there’s a lineage that you are fortunate enough to find, and the deepest conversations are going to be the ones where you are talking to Tolstoy. You Know, “What do you think? Am I speaking...?” Or another way I’ll say to my students is, “If you read a book and you think: ‘This is the most perfect book, there’s nothing else to be said,’ then great, you can go to law school, you don’t have to do that.” [audience laughter] But often what I feel like is when I read a great story by anybody there’s that first wave of you’re moved, you’re envious, you’re a little resentful, you’re moved, and then in that mix there’s sometimes a little tiny voice saying, “He got this wrong.” [audience laughter] And that’s true. Relative to one’s experience, how could anyone else get every single veil.

So for example I was a big Hemingway guy, but I also as a working-class kid from Chicago. I was like, “He didn’t quite get my...” My dad owned a restaurant called Chicken Unlimited, it was a franchise, we had two of them. [audience laughter] And it was really fun, I was his delivery driver, and our motto was, and this is very zen, “Chicken Unlimited doesn’t stop at chicken.” [audience laughter] And we had these franchises on the south side and these really crazy, lovely lost souls would drift in and sit there for four hours, and you would get to know them as a high school kid, and when I turned to Hemingway, I didn’t see that world at all. So even as I was admiring him and being totally enthralled with him, there was a little voice saying, “What would he think of your dad’s restaurant. ‘The Chicken Unlimited was pleasant’? [audience laughter]

So part of what we’re trying to do is say, “Yeah, of course I admire my hero so much, but is there anything yet to be said, and there will always be something yet to be said, because the universe is so vast.

Lew: Yeah. The risk-taking that you do in that story and so many others, it makes me feel like you don’t fear failure like the rest of us, but I’m sure you do, or maybe you don’t?

George: I think maybe, yeah, a lot.

Lew: What do you do with that fear?

George: Well, failure for me would be to put out a story that was just like a bunch of other stories. That would be the most... I live in fear that someone will say, “He’s lost it. What a bore.” That’s the worst fear. For someone to say, “That fucker’s crazy,” I’m like, “Yeah.” [audience laughter] So that’s more of a, I mean, I’m sure there’s psychological reasons, but I don’t want to be boring. And also, I don’t want to bore myself. And in my process of, I’ll talk about this later tonight, in my process of writing, there’s a lot of tweaking on the sentence-level. And that is to squeeze out any sloth. Any place where you go, “Eeh, good enough,” or, “They won’t notice.” I don’t like that. So those suite of tendencies tend to make me much more comfortable doing something reckless than dull.

I told you earlier I’m writing a piece on Donald Trump’s campaign, I went to a bunch of rallies.

Lew: You’re the man. [audience laughter]

George: Yeah, makes me very nervous. But I’m in the middle of that. I’m at the point right now where I have to push into the reckless territory. I mean literally, like today,  this morning I was like, “This is not telling the truth enough.” So I’m noticing that in my body I just feel like, “No way, I am not turning in a bunch of warmed-over truisms to my friends at The New Yorker I’m not going to do it.” So I know that I have to push into a higher register that will be a little scarier and a little nuttier and there will be some formal innovations. And then I’m like, “Alright, I’m willing to do that. Better that than the other thing.”

Lew: That seems paradoxical to me: that recklessness gets at the truth.

George: But it’s not really recklessness…

Lew: That’s what you called it.

George: [audience laughs] Well yeah, [jokingly] calm down. Good thing I’m not running for president, or I’d be screwed. It’s maybe like you have a reckless hat and you have, I call it my inner Catholic nun hat. So you go off and you do something, like that story you mentioned, “Ah, fucking doritos, ha ha ha.” There’s a guy in a television commercial, and his schtick is that his penis gets cut off by a Ford, or something, I don’t know, but anyway, you put that on and then you say…

Lew: [audience laughs] I was afraid you were going to go there.

George: I always go there. But you have that reckless hat on, but then you have to say, “Okay, as readers, we don’t actually like mere recklessness,” because that’s what we all did when we were freshmen in high school. “I just gonna type, uh.” [audience laughs] That isn’t actually, there isn’t value in that. There’s a certain recklessness, wildness, and then there’s another voice that says “Now wait a minute I gotta shape this so it’s not just random.” So recklessness at the outset, tempered with carefulness produces a third valence, which, I don’t know what the name of that is, but that’s what I’m going for is the third thing.

Lew: That’s good. [audience laughs]

George: I’m going to amend that. [Lew laughs]

Lew: Good. Obviously, you seem to be having a good time on the page. Is writing play, or can you talk about writing as play.

George: [00:34:55] Yeah. I love it. More and more with every year. It’s so much fun. But its play in the in the way. I guess like football is play, you sometimes get the crap knocked out of you, and you sometimes make mistakes and you screw it up for your team, and your knee goes out. But the larger thing is very playful and fun. And the thing is my stories are dark, obviously, and I often get asked about that and the Catholic kid in me is like [high pitched] “Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that. I want to be positive and luminous,” and so on [audience laughs]. But then I have to remind myself that it’s play. No actual humans are harmed… [audience laughs].

So then you go, “well, why am I doing it?” Well, I think I’m doing it, and there, again, you look to your masters. “What has happened to me when I read Gogol story or a Tolstoy story or Alice Munro, what happened to me.” Well, factually, what happened to me is I’ve just came alive for a couple minutes, during and after. But anyone who reads knows that feeling. You are just a little bit more in the world for a couple minutes afterwards and you can list: compassionate, sympathetic, but I would just you're more there. And that’s good. That’s really good. It’s sufficient. So in that sense, you want someone to feel that yourself as you're doing it, that’s…the whole thing [laughs].

Lew: There’s a lot of problem-solving in being a storyteller.

George: Yeah.

Lew: And in any creative enterprise. You paraphrase Einstein as saying, “No worthy problem is ever solved within the plane of its original conception.”

George: Right. A student told me that Einstein said that. I can never find it. [audience laughter] It might have been just this really smart student who said it.

Lew: Pseudo-Einstein said... Yeah. How does the writer get out of the rut of his own story or her own story.

George: That’s the million-dollar question, and I think for me it has to do with coming back to it again and again and again and revising it over and over. So what seemed pretty good on forty-seven previous occasions might on the forty-eighth occasion strike you as being some adjustment. But for me, what I mean, there’s an unfortunate process I go through which is I will write what turns out to be about that first half of the story with really good energy and really good confidence, a lot of fun, and then I will lock up. And it’s not that I’m not writing, I’m just writing stuff that later gets thrown away.

And I don’t know, it just happened to me for the first time on a story called “Sea Oak”, which is in my second book, and I had this woman who is kind of a very submissive, gentle woman, working class woman who gets scared to death by these intruders who are coming. She has a heart attack and dies, and then there was a pretty good funeral scene and a pretty good after-funeral lunch, and there I was. So the most interesting person in my story, I just killed her off, and I don’t know what to do. And it became kind of about the family trying to get out of this dangerous neighborhood, and that was kind of after-school special-ish. [audience laughter] Or else then they do. How? They all get better jobs. [audience laughter] It’s not a story.

But I tried, I tried all these different endings. And when I say try, I have to go to the end and polish to see if it’s going to work or not. And there’d be over and over that moment of truth where I’d get to that page and go, “Here it comes,” and go, “Oh, no,” and the energy would just drop. I had to do five or six, I have four hundred pages of alternate polished endings that didn’t work, and I just couldn’t kid myself. So then at one point I went on vacation and I came back and I was just either taking a shower or taking or one of those non-writing things. And as I often was, I was rebuking myself mentally, so I was saying, “You know, you teach writing. [audience laughter] Why can’t you, you’ve been writing this story for three years now. Why can’t you write a stupid short story?”

And I said, “I know,” and by that time I knew that this woman had to come back in this story, and I had her coming back in dream sequences, I had her coming back in flashbacks, and I just said, “You know she has to come back.” And you know how sometimes your mind will just plop a phrase into your head. My mind said, “From the grave.” [audience laughter] And I was like, “Ah, of course!” And I had seen enough Twilight Zone to know what that would look like. So that was that thing that the story was refusing to be solved in its original conception, which was a realist story in which dead people stay dead. But the story said that “My rhetorical needs are such that she has to come back. Are you bold enough to let her literally come back?” I said, “Sure, yeah, I know how to do that.” And then the story finished. But it was just being stuck for four years at that point over and over.

So I don’t like that, and that pattern has kind of hardened for me, it happens every time, and every time I don’t know how to make that surge happen, and I just have to patiently wait. Well, not wait, but work, work really hard on what seems to be the best solution and in time the story will kind of burp and let me at it. [audience laughter] But that’s okay. That’s fun. It is fun to know that you’re involved in a really difficult challenge that not going to let you off easy. I can’t think of anything more fun. Because as you get older, isn’t it the truth that the worst thing is to feel like you’re wasting your time or you’re spending your time on something trivial? With this, I feel like it’s hard, it’s disproportionately hard, but it feels like a worthy struggle.

Lew: [00:40:47] Yeah, I think a lot of us here would recognize the play in your work. We certainly know that your work is crafted. But four hundred pages that you threw away?

George: Yeah, I have them. [laughs] And also sometimes they get repurposed. There’s a scene that you write that actually, well, “You poor little scene, you’re just in the wrong story.” [audience laughter]

Lew: Right, right. One of the first stories of yours I encountered was Pastoralia. Am I pronouncing that correctly?

George: Yeah, yeah, you’re the first person who ever has. [audience laughter]

Lew: Like so many of your works of fiction, one of the things it does so well is illumine the ways we Americans abuse or distort or falsify with our words. For example, the narrator who’s a, I take it, he’s a cave man in a history theme park.

George: Yeah.

Lew: Yeah. And he has to keep giving himself a pep talk, which I think has been handed to him by the corporation that he works for. “I’m thinking positive, saying positive,” even though his son suffers a debilitating disease and he can’t afford the medicine that might help him, and he has to live away from home, and participate in a humiliating job...

George: You make it sound so sad.

Lew: Yeah, right, right. [audience laughter] Can you talk about the ways language betrays us? Or maybe even particularly the way corporate-speak betrays us, because you’ve had some experience in that world.

George: Yeah, I worked for, when I got out of grad school and the Nobel Prize didn’t arrive as I expected, [audience laughter] so my wife and I had two daughters really quickly, and she had been stuck in bed for both pregnancies. So we went from kind of being beatniks to being not beatniks. [audience laughter] Being really like a married couple with two kids and not enough money. So I went to work for this company, an engineering... Well, first I worked for a pharmaceutical company as a tech writer, and then for a environmental, an engineering company as a tech writer. So there’s about eight years where I was writing my first book in that environment. And you just were everyday with that kind of language.

And we did a lot of work for Kodak, and our role was kind of be a scientific apologist for them. We would do a study, and they were pretty valid studies, but when you went to write them, there was always a bit of passive voice, you know. “Mistakes were made.” [audience laughter] “Radiation was contributed.” So then I had this realization, it wasn’t even conscious, but in the work I was doing, it was like, “Well, wherever there are more than one human being gathered, that’s literature.” Doesn’t matter who they are or what they’re saying. By definition, put two people on a bus, that’s literature.

So we had nine people in kind of a failing corporate office doing this kind of euphemistic work, and it finally occurred to me, if I can’t make literature out of this, it doesn’t have a bull fight, it doesn’t have have to be trout fishing, [audience laughter] it’s human beings with families striving to make ends meet. So that was one thing.

And the other thing was, I grew up on the southside of Chicago, and in our neighborhood and among our friends and extended family there wasn’t a lot of sincere emoting. But there was a lot of emoting. So [audience laughter] I remember I had an older guy, and uncle or something, would say, [in gruff voice] “Hey, you fucking jerk off. You, you got moxie.” And I’m like, “Oh, he loves me!” [audience laughter] So the idea that I found myself drawn to was that every human being has a complete, of course, a complete emotional vocabulary. But on the way out it gets stunted, or filtered or edited, or it gets fumbled. We know that from looking at ourselves.

I mean, how many times have I stood at an airport and said, “Well, have a great trip.” You know, your heart is overflowing, but you don’t have the words. So my working assumption is every human being has a full emotional vocabulary. They export it in funny ways. But inarticulateness doesn’t mean that there’s no emotion there. So that just became a trick for me to engage in something that I’m pretty good at, which is just making stuff up.

[00:45:14] When we were in high school that was the big game was sort of to invent characters and make up an accent and a funny walk. But really that was the assumption, that poetry is just language overflowing its banks. So if you’re [in gruff voice] somebody that doesn’t you know, you just, uh, you, uh. [audience laughter] That’s a poem. [audience laughter] Because you know what I meant. So for me that was a great liberation. That gate came open and instead of trying to vainly imitate some higher literary diction, which I couldn’t do, I could settle in and say, “Ahh, everything I hear is poetry.” By definition the American argot... Is that a word, “argot”? That’d be a kind of sweater, I don’t know. But [audience laughter] everything that you hear is the grounds for poetry.

And for me, the strengths of say, “I can take that and I don’t have to replicate it, but I can use it.” Like, in Syracuse, that story “Sea Oak” started with, I was in Syracuse, in the mall, and I was walking behind these two teenage girls, and they were talking to each other and it went something like this, “I told that fucking shit I’m gonna kick his fucking ass. Fucking stupid, fucking shit.” [audience laughter] And her friend was like, “I know! I don’t understand a fucking...” And this went on and I’m stalking them through the mall like, “Wow, what?” [audience laughter] So I didn’t, I don’t have the capacity to memorize what they’re saying, but I got the gist [audience laughter] and then went home and just made up two people talking in my approximation of that and that became those two young women in that story “Sea Oak”.

Lew: Right.

George: It’s all poetry. “Right.” [laughs]

Lew: In The Braindead Megaphone, you write, and this is a longish quote, so stay with me: “Storytelling is a language-rich enterprise. The best stories proceed from a mysterious truth-seeking impulse that narrative has when revised extensively. They are complex and baffling and ambiguous. They tend to make us slower to act, rather than quicker. They make us more humble, cause us to empathize with people we don’t know because they help us imagine these people. And when we imagine these people, if the storytelling is good enough, we imagine them as being essentially like us.” [silence]

That’s a beautiful expression.

George: Thanks. I’ll stand by that. [audience laughter]

Lew: Right. That’s a beautiful expression of how fiction has the potential to make us more compassionate, more kind. Are there particular stories that have done that for you?

George: Yeah. I’m trying to think. There’s a short little Chekhov story called “Grief”, or sometimes it’s called “Misery”, and it’s just this guy real lower, lower class cab man. Of course, cab man in Russia, and you find out that his son has just died that day, but he came to work. And the whole story is him trying to tell his rides about his son. And he’s invisible to them, and one of them cuffs him in the back of the head and tells him to shut up. And then at the end of that day, he’s been unsuccessful in conveying his grief, and he takes his horse and puts the horse away and tells his story to the horse.

So that story, every time I see somebody and do that little reflexive move where I go, “Don’t need to deal with him, don’t need to deal with her,” or, on this Trump piece I’m doing, I’ve met a lot of people, my first liberal embed instincts go, “Too bad he’s so wrong.” [audience laughter] I could certainly discount him, or worse yet, if any of you are journalists you know part of the truth is to go, “Oh, I can use that. He’s saying something really stupid. I can nail him.” I think of that story. You don’t know, we don’t know what secret griefs someone is carrying around.

And the bad thing about grief is grief just doesn’t make tears roll down, grief also makes you angry, and it makes you foreshorten other people and it makes you aggressive sometimes, it could. So that story for me, I go back to that every now and then. In fact, he actually in the story the guy is kinda unlikeable. He’s kind of crude and he’s kind of a kiss off, but this grief is as real as anybody else’s.

Lew: [00:50:05] So it really expands the dimension of people, right? It holds you accountable for not reducing them or treating them in a shallow way.

George: Yeah, and the beauty of it is, if you’re a fiction writer you know this happens, your first draft is usually mockery, at least mine is. You’re up here and maybe the reader is a little below you, but you’re willing to have her close. And then down here is that stupid character that you’re kicking. And with different writers that distance is less, but I think with your first draft is always going to be like this. As you revise, I think what happens is that person comes up in your estimation, that character. And as the character comes up in your estimation, the reader also comes up in your estimation, because suddenly everybody is disallowing you the cheap shots and the easy dismissals.

But this happens line-to-line. I always tell this story, but you write your story, “Frank was a jerk.” Well, if you read Shakespeare, that line strikes you as being not the best. [audience laughter] “Frank’s a jerk.” Okay, Frank’s a jerk, well. And what we train ourselves to do as fiction writers is to say, “How so? Give me an example.” And we ask that both for reasons for wholeness, but also for reasons that say, “If you give me specifics, the language will get better.” “Frank was a jerk.” Why do you say that? “Frank spoke angrily to the barista.” Alright, well that’s already a little better. It’s not a judgment, it’s a description. “Frank spoke angrily to the barista.” Okay. And our fiction training says, “Why?” I don’t know. “Frank spoke angrily to the barista because she reminded him of his wife.” Okay, it’s a little glib, “Who had just died.”

Hmm, “Frank spoke angrily to the barista because she reminded him of Marie, who had just died.” Suddenly, Frank’s doing a jerky thing still, but Frank’s complicated, and I think you empathize more for the second Frank than that earlier Frank. In the nutshell that’s the process. Now, it’s not ever that simple of course. So you are training yourself, it’s like compassion training wheels as you invent people who are very low, which you do every minute of every day, as you’re walking through the airport as you see the guy with the whatever the opposing political party shirt is, you go, “Ugh, I know that guy.” Well, you don’t actually. And fiction gives you that rare opportunity to invent that guy and then revise him.

And it’s not that you’re trying to make him perfect or unimpeachable, you’re just trying to see what he in in his totality, which then the judgment gets evaporated out of it and you’re not for him or against him, but you love him because you paid attention to him. Something like that.

Lew: That’s a great segue into faith and writing and I want to talk about spirituality with you. You grew up as a Catholic. You’ve made your way into Buddhism. Can you describe that journey, what motivated? And I know that you have a particular way of talking about Buddhism, so if you could go ahead and...?

George: Yeah, well I was raised on a particular kind of Catholic which is south side of Chicago Catholic in the Sixties, so I’m sure there are some people who can empathize. But  I found it a really breathtakingly beautiful tradition. I think for a young artist to be among all that pomp and the huge metaphor, which basically to me the mass always said, “There are meanings that you can sense that can’t be articulated and we do that through ritual,” and that’s a great model of somebody rising to the occasion of the grand metaphor. I love that.

And I had a couple of really deep experiences when I was younger, kind of just, we talked about lineage, we had one I was at Saturday afternoon mass or night mass, and I just had this really powerful sense of being almost able to imagine who the saints were, Peter and Paul and John, and feeling like I was in that lineage, like they were there so that our generation could come, and then if I lived right, I could somehow be a part of that spiritual tradition. A very powerful and ecstatic. And I’m sitting in church just like, “Wow, this is so good.”

Well then every Saturday night my parents would go over to a friend’s house and they would drink and play cards and I would play this baseball game with my friend who was my age, it was a little card game or something, and even as I was having my ecstatic experience I was like, “Oh no, we have to go play cards now. And I know this is going to fade.” And I wanted to just stay in church or just go home, but I had to go. And I remember so clearly sitting in the floor of this living room, playing that game, and just watching that ecstatic die down until I was just myself again.

[00:55:08] But when I think about faith, faith to me is just remembering that that happened. And then arranging one’s life so that every now and then the memory of the reality of that experience gets ritually rekindled in some way. So shortly after that I walked in on a priest and a nun french kissing in the vestibule, which was a really faith-tester. [audience laughter] But anyway, so then that stuff was, the spiritual stuff that I was hearing, this model of Jesus as an infinitely compassionate being, infinitely powerful because infinitely compassionate, that really seemed beautiful to me.

Then I kind of drifted out of it, and many, many years later my wife led us to Buddhist practice, and what I like about it was that compared to my experience of Catholicism, Buddhism was much more practical. And I know that there are Christian practices, but I didn’t find them when I was younger, so this was sort of rigorous, specific meditative practices you could do. And instead of saying, “I’m trying to be good but I’m not because I’m rotten,” you could say, “Yeah, I’m pretty rotten, but,” and then the way that kind of transformed the mindset.

So that’s what appealed to me. But having said, that, I’m a real beginner, and I found out about myself is that writing is really, I think if I get to the end of my life and haven’t worked through these different writing things I’m setting before myself, I’ll be very unhappy. So that’s where most of my energy goes is writing more than anything else.

Lew: In eulogizing David Foster Wallace, it’s a great piece by the way, you call him a Buddhist and a wake-up artist. What do you mean by that, and do you see yourself as a wake-up artist?

George: I would like to be. He was something very special. I think these great artists like Dave, I think what they do is they rouse us out of our habituated sloth. And basically what is it? We are put here and I think probably for Darwinian reasons, we labor under certain delusions. One is that we’re permanent. We know that we are. We’re not going anywhere. Those other schmucks are going to die, but we’re not.

The second one is that we are separate, that this particular person that we happen to be is the most important, central, all those things. And I think it’s just biological. We’re set up with a sensory configuration that makes it feel that way. Our consciousness develops and we have limited physical bodies. But every so often there’s a little glimpse that that’s not accurate. For me, a couple times in my life I had people close to me pass away unexpectedly and you have that incredible feeling of being ripped open, tender, clueless, confused, vulnerable, all those things. So what happens in prayer, it happens in meditation, just that moment where the veil comes down, where you go, “Oh, so this thing that I feel as reality, every moment of my life actually isn’t the ultimate reality.” I think a good artist can take you, sort of artificially, to that place briefly. Which it’s a scale model of eternity in a certain way. Not in any dramatic way, just a way that you feel unhinged after you read a beautiful story.

It’s ritual, in the same way that prayer is. It’s just a way of reminding yourself that the way you normally walk around is a little bit diluted. And Dave did that for me because his work was so intelligent and stylistically so complex, and he seemed to have an aversion even as a person to any kind of bullshit. And I know this because I’m a bit of a Pollyanna, like I don’t like criticizing anybody, I kind of like the truth but not in real life. I’m not crazy about it, [audience laughter] so when I would get around Dave, he couldn’t help it, he’s just an honest person, an honest man.

And I would feel myself straightening up and the usual verbal hyperbole I would pull, I couldn’t do it in front of him. So I think some people who end up being teachers for you are people who are so something that when you are around them it’s almost like they throw a light on you. So when I was around him I felt like, “Well, I certainly can’t lie to him, cuz he’ll know it,” and I just noticed those little adjustments in attitude I would make, and that’s amazing. And I think his prose does the same thing.

Lew: Absolutely, and yours does too. I think you’re so committed to honesty.

George: [01:00:03] In fiction.

Lew: In fiction, right. [audience laughs]

George: Yeah, but this is one of the things I like about it. In real life, I listen to myself, I’m transcribing the tapes from the Trump story, and I’m listening to myself, and I’m so full of it. [Lew laughs] I’m constantly kissing up to people. “I know who she is,” you know. [audience laughter] Not a truthful person, actually. But in fiction, you write a story full of lies, you have that golden opportunity to come back to it at your leisure and say, “That’s a lie.” And there’s no peer pressure, there’s no social pressure, you just say, “Well, do I want to lie in my story or not? I really don’t.” So that’s a great chance. Again, scale modeling or honesty training wheels, in a certain sense.

Lew: But a lot of people don’t come back to the art and check themselves. And it seems like you do. And it seems like you have done a really sacramental for you of art. Is that fair?

George: Yeah, without the incense.

Lew: Without the grandiosity.

George: I mean, what’s a sacrament. As I said, a sacrament is just a way of reminding the dummy that you usually are that there is eternity. Remind the dummy you usually are that death is coming. And for me the most important thing is, alright, if I look at myself, if any of us looks at ourselves over the many years of our lives, you see a graph of the different people you’ve been. I used to be a Reagan-supporting Ayn Rand guy when I was eighteen. I used to be a wild partier in Asia, like a year later, figure that out. [audience laughter] And I have been madly, insanely jealous, and I’ve been—everything, we’ve been all these things.

To me the essence of the spiritual life is to say, “Okay, I’ve been all those things, what does that imply? Mutability.” It implies that the way you are right now sitting in a chair is not fixed or permanent. What does that mean? Well, it means that if you surveyed all the people you’ve been and asked yourself, “Which is the most powerful stage that I’ve ever inhabited?” Now, when I asked that question, it’s when I was most kicked in the gut, vulnerable, confused, ergo, loving. That’s the most powerful I’ve ever been. And in that state I had no doubt about what the right thing was to do, my ego had fallen away, not willingly. And then the walls go back up and you’re fine again.

A good father, husband, a professor, a writer, what? You know, that guy comes back. [audience laughter] What I’m saying is spiritual life is for us to survey all the people we’ve been, which is the one I like the best, or is the most powerful slash truthful slash sustainable, then you say, “Oh yeah, I was once that woman, I was once that man. I could get back to that person, I think. What’s the method?” And I think most people who are spiritual, that’s their method. Their method is to sacramentally do whatever it is that reminds them of that most powerful stage that they’ve been in.

Spiritual sloth is declining to do that because one is writing a novel, for example. [laughter]

Q & A

Lew: [01:03:07] I can’t believe that we’re down to about five minutes left, and I wanted to open up to the audience here a chance to ask you at least one question, or two. So we have Julia LaPlaca with a microphone. Does someone have a question for George Saunders?

George: And Lew, thank you, I love those questions. They’re fun.

Lew: Thank you. The answers are better.

George: They are not. [Lew laughs]

Audience Member: Mr. Saunders.

George: You’re number two.

Audience Member: I’m sorry?

George: No, go ahead.

Audience Member: Your teachers, Tobias Wolff, Ray Carver, work in a really realist genre, and your satire is bouncing off the walls. How did you move from having teachers who work in such gritty, real situations to having a talking bag of Doritos and girls with holes in their heads?

George: Right, great question. Actually, there’s a clue. Toby has a great story called “Hunters in the Snow”, if you know that one. And David Balis talked to me about how important that story was for him. It’s a story that is realist and there’s just a little rupture about half-way through where suddenly the things that are happening you don’t really accept them as realistic. And that story is very emotionally engaging. So I think for me that story was one, and then Barthelme’s work, too, where you see that... I’d always assumed that, I think a lot of young writers do, that the most emotionally engaging stories were the most real. The ones that kept themselves to the frame of the realistic. While, that story of Toby’s and Barthelme’s work and others, Gogol, made me think, “Oh, actually, no.”

As you said earlier, sometimes to get to the higher emotional registers you have to violate realism. Why? Well, one thing is that the world is constantly violating realism. Realism is not what actually happens. Realism is our conventionalized sense of what usually happens. Being at the Trump rallies, that was not realistic [audience laughter]. But it was real. So I think that’s where for me everything came together to say that the actual things that happen in this world are certainly not tidy or realistic, therefore to get at the feeling of that we might have to.

[01:05:34] But practically what happened is I locked up for, I always joked that I had this condition called the Hemingway boner. [audience laughter] And so I just imitated him slavishly for about five years and got nowhere. Nothing was happening, and then... [audience laughter] Oh, you laugh, it’s not that funny. [audience laughter] But there was a moment of crisis where we had our second daughter and I was thirty-two or something, thirty, whatever, wasn’t getting any results, and I had just had a breakthrough, I’ll try to talk about it tonight or later, but I had written some really goofy, silly, not realistic poems that my wife actually enjoyed. [audience laughter] And that was the first time anybody had enjoyed my writing in about five years. [Lew laughs]

And something just popped and I went, “Okay, by any means necessary, I just want to engage a reader. If I have to be crazy, there’s gotta be a reason for that, so.”

Lew: We need to bring this to a close. Thank you very much, George Saunders.

George: Thank you.

[applause]

Outro

[music]

Lisa: [01:06:34] Special thanks to George Saunders. The audiobook for his first novel, Lincoln and the Bardo, features one hundred and sixty-six different actors, including Nick Offerman, David Sedaris, Carrie Brownstein, and Mary Karr. Listen to a sample at GeorgeSaundersBooks.com.

Thanks also to Kirstin Valdez Quade. You can follow her work at KirstinValdezQuade.com.

Rewrite Radio is recorded at the Festival of Faith & Writing on the campus of Calvin College and produced by the Calvin Center for Faith & Writing. Our team includes Sarah Bass, Jon Brown, Sadie Burgher, Donald Hettinga, Lew Klatt, Scott Hoezee, Jennifer Holberg, Bob Hudson, Anneke Kapteyn, Carolyn Muyskens, Deb Rienstra, Sarah Turnage, Debbie Visser, and Jane Zwart.

You can learn more about the Festival of Faith & Writing at festival.calvin.edu, and if you’re into the social media, be sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. If you like what we’re doing on Rewrite Radio, please leave us a review on iTunes. It helps other people discover the show, and we are so grateful. Also, we’ve got twenty-six years of Festival recordings to explore here on Rewrite Radio, and if you’ve been at some of these festivals and have a favorite session or two that you are especially excited to hear on this podcast, just shoot me an e-mail at ffw@calvin.edu and tell me about them. Just put Rewrite Radio in the subject line.

Thanks for listening to Rewrite Radio. I am Lisa Ann Cockrel, back soon with more from the Festival of Faith & Writing.