On November 16, the winner of the Man Booker Prize, one of the most prestigious global awards in literature, spent the day on campus engaging with high school students and faculty. He ended his visit with an evening reception and presentation for the entire Convent & Stuart Hall community and their guests.
Before winning the Man Booker Prize for his first novel, Lincoln in the Bardo, Mr. Saunders has long been known for his widely lauded short stories, earning him four National Magazine Awards for fiction and a MacArthur Fellowship (a "Genius Grant"). His story collection, Tenth of December, was a National Book Award Finalist and winner of the 2014 Folio Prize. He is currently on the faculty of Syracuse University teaching creative writing in the school's M.F.A. program. His work regularly appears in publications such as The New Yorker, Harper's and McSweeney's.
In addition to being a best-selling and highly respected author, Mr. Saunders is also a compelling lecturer whose schedule is now busier than ever after his significant Man Booker win last month, making him the second American in a row to receive the coveted award since its span was widened in 2014 to include all fiction written in English, regardless of its author's nationality.
After attending the Key West Literary Seminar last January and hearing Mr. Saunders present, President of School, Ann Marie Krejcarek, knew he'd be an engaging and fitting visitor.
Stuart Hall for Boys faculty member, Dennis Estrada, also attended the Seminar and is a fan of Mr. Saunders' work. In discussing Lincoln in the Bardo, Mr. Estrada said, "Through the many ghostly characters' tales, Saunders is providing us with the opportunity to examine our own attachments and narratives that we hold on to so dearly. In essence, he asks us: 'What do you need to let go of? What is keeping you from moving on to the next stage of your life?' These are fundamental questions that we eventually need to turn to, and his latest work gives us yet another opportunity to explore our own depths."
Mr. Saunders' day on the Convent & Stuart Hall campus exceeded our high expectations.
Cece Giarman, Grade 12, was inspired by his presentation. "Mr. Saunders really changed some of my perspectives on not only creative writing but life. He talked about how creative writing should allow readers to see past the curtain that often conceals reality so a greater truth can be found. As someone not normally pulled towards descriptive and fiction writing, I found a new fondness and interest for that kind of literature purely because of Mr. Saunders' thoughtful and insightful words. I was captivated by how genuine Mr. Saunders was and how he was sincerely happy to be spreading his knowledge to our community. I am truly grateful to have had the opportunity to hear the words of such an inspiring and accomplished man," said Giarman.
Amanda Walker, Library Department Chair, introduced Mr. Saunders, saying: "To read a George Saunders story is to see plainly that writing is relational. It both originates in and delivers us to empathy."
Mr. Saunders' visit was the culmination of the school's week-long Book Fair, celebrating a "culture of reading," which has at its heart the Great Texts Canon – a critically evaluated list of titles and mentor authors that invites students to read widely and rigorously across the K-12 curriculum. Walker states: "Our Great Text Canon and Culture of Reading here at school are based in our belief in the essential ability—the power—of the written word to reveal, and to connect us, through both windows and mirrors, to curiosity and to questions; to content and curriculum; to the realities and experiences of others; to beauty; to joy. Saunders and his work embody what is perhaps the most vital truth that we teach and strive to engender in our students and ourselves, this year's school theme: that we belong to each other."
Past award-winning literary speakers in the series are Billy Collins, US Poet-Laureate and Naomi Shihab Nye, acclaimed Palestinian-American writer.