George Saunders

I love the idea of putting something literary in a place we might not expect to find it.

George Saunders is the author of four short story collections (including the recent New York Times bestseller and National Book Award finalist Tenth of December), an essay collection (The Braindead Megaphone), and a children’s book (The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip, illustrated by Lane Smith). In 2006, he received a Guggenheim Fellowship and was named a MacArthur Fellow. He teaches at Syracuse University.

Why are you participating in the Cultivating Thought series?

Jonathan Safran Foer approached me about it, and I have so much respect for him, as a person and a writer. And I love the idea of putting something literary in a place we might not expect to find it. As someone who is always whining about the dumbing-down of American culture, I felt like this would be a nice way of stepping in and putting my….well, the metaphor breaks down. Putting my words where my mouth is? Hmm.

Tell us about your two-minute read.

For the last 14 years or so I’ve been working on this longer story in this voice — a sort of diary-entry form. I came up with this little “meditation,” but in the end, the story didn’t need it. I tend to be a fanatic about structure — if a bit isn’t moving the actual story along, out it goes. But I had a soft spot in my heart for this one.

Who inspires you? Who are your favorite authors?

I really love Russian writers, especially from the 19th and early 20th Century: Gogol, Tolstoy, Chekhov, Babel. I love the way they take on the big topics. I’m also inspired by a certain absurdist comic tradition that would include influences like Mark Twain, Daniil Kharms, Groucho Marx, Monty Python, Steve Martin, Jack Handey, etc. And then, on top of that, I love the strain of minimalist American fiction writing: Sherwood Anderson, Ernest Hemingway, Raymond Carver, Tobias Wolff.

What’s the best book you've read in the past year?

I really loved The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner — so wild and inventive, and I don’t know anyone writing today who can make more sentence-level beauty out of the things of the world.

Two-Minute Note to the Future

by George Saunders

Amazing to think that I am here in my time and you, future reader, are there in your (future) time, reading this! By the time you read this, I may be in grave (!). Maybe you, in your future clothing, can drive your jet car to my grave, hover over grave, think fondly of time you read these words, leave weird cloned flowers, go scooting back to own life. But beware: you too, future reader, will someday be in grave. All, in time, will be in graves. Unless you, in future time, have defeated death. If so, please revive me (!). Also revive Kate (wife) and kids (Sally, Kip).

Hope that, in future, all is well, everyone eats free, no one must work, all just sit around feeling love for one another.

Speaking of Sally, Kip: what parenting like in future? Still difficult? Even though your kids not brought to term in womb, but in small hygienic chamber attached to mother, even though your kids born speaking several languages + playing violin, due to tiny chips in brains, future parents still find parenting hard?

My boss just came, asked what I was writing. EnderCO report? Ha. No.

Note to future generations: Still have “bosses”? Bosses still intrusive? Still have “offices”? Future offices = high tech? All you have to do to raise temperature is think, “Raise temperature in office,” computer does? People move from place to place on invisible air-cars? People think: “AirCar, take me to Copy Room,” soon are soundlessly proceeding to Copy Room? Except there is no Copy Room, because paper obsolete, all documents projected on to screen inside brain? Sometimes, for prank, future person sends ton of random copies into brain of friend, friend cannot walk/see, has to feel way to AirCar, say: “AirCar, take me to Frank’s cubicle, am going to kill Frank for flooding my brain with random copies.” In your (future) time, boss can just stay in own (plush) office, nosing into what (excellent, responsible) worker might be writing in own spare time? Worker can send boss mental message: If you are so smart, Mr. Kenner, why branch shrinking, why did you have to lay off Jerry Ringer?

Jerry = good guy. Really miss Jerry. Jerry = dear friend. People still get fired in future? Even person with new baby? Hope not. Hope that, in future, all is well, everyone eats free, no one must work, all just sit around feeling love for one another.