George Saunders ‘81 has won one of the most prestigious awards in English literature, the Man Booker Prize, for his first novel, “Lincoln in the Bardo.”
Saunders studied geophysics at Colorado School of Mines, working after graduation as a field geophysicist in Indonesia. He later enrolled in an MFA program at Syracuse University, where he still teaches.
Saunders recently talked to the Lawrence Journal-World about how his engineering background informs his creative writing.
“It was a gradual sort of transformation, but it did really help me. I think one way was it got me out into the world a little bit and got me overseas and understanding how many of my ideas were just sort of provincial and small. I think also the logic of that kind of work (engineering) also got into my own writing. There’s a kind of a rigor in engineering. Engineering doesn’t care how hard you try—if the answer’s wrong, it’s wrong. So, that was something that’s been helpful to me over the years. I can do a lot of drafts of a story. After draft No. 400, if it’s still stupid, then I’m like, ‘OK, gotta do another one,’ you know? I don’t have that expectation that putting in effort necessarily yields a result. You have to keep pushing.”
Published in February, “Lincoln in the Bardo” tells the story of President Lincoln’s visit to his son’s crypt in a Washington cemetery and has been heralded for its unconventional form. The Man Booker Prize, first awarded in 1969, recognizes the best original novel written in the English language and published in the U.K. Eligibility was previously restricted to authors from Great Britain, Ireland and the Commonweath nations before being expanded in 2014 to any novel written in English and published in Britain.
Image credit: Booker Prize Foundation
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