Interview with George Saunders in the White Review

A little less than a year ago I turned in a Master’s dissertation on George Saunders (mostly), the crowning jewel of which was twenty page appendix containing our email exchange – my fumbling questions and his generous answers – in their raw, effusive, and original form. Now The White Review will be publishing selections from that transcript in their Issue No. 17. You can buy it when it’s released 13 July, or you can read my interview now online.

You can also read Aidan Ryan’s interview with George Saunders, in which the great writer reminds us that fiction ‘encourages us to step out of ourselves and into someone else … de facto a moral experience’. This conversation offers hope that art and literature can change the way we think, and by extension the way we act.

–         from The White Review Issue No. 17 release teaser

I came to Edinburgh in late summer 2014  with the vaguest of inclinations that I wanted to write about George Saunders, who’d changed my understanding of what was possible in the short story form with his collection Tenth of December, which had been released the year prior, and what I sensed was not only the central concern of his stories, but the key to their mechanics. This, I thought, was a movement toward or away from greater kindness, greater empathy, and greater community. The phrases “telos of kindness” and “the ever-expanding first-person plural” echoed off the sides of what was at that point my rather empty skull (I would abandon both by the time I sent the paper to the printers) and it was with these in mind one September afternoon that I climbed the Salisbury Crags in Edinburgh, a copy of Saunders’ debut collection CivilWarLand in Bad Decline in my hand, looking for some comfortable outcrop to suit me as I searched his pages for the seed of a Master’s dissertation proposal. Thankfully Edinburgh’s summer days are long – I finished the stories before the sun set, walked back through the gorse into the moil of the city with a topic, an angle, and a sense of awe that carried me through the long months to follow.

At first I thought I’d rather cross Catullus on a bad day than risk, in an email to Saunders, the Chicago-born saint recognizing some slippage of smallness or meanness in a hasty clause or a postscript — but by June of 2015 my inquiry had expanded to include David Foster Wallace, Roland Barthes, Fredric Jameson, and M.M. Bakhtin, and amounted to an unwieldy tower of handwritten notes on yellow legal paper, organized via paperclips and bobby pins (which work almost as well) that I’d found on the floor of the postgraduate study suite. I needed something to help shape the research, I needed justification to avoid writing about the less interesting angles that I knew by intuition were irrelevant but out of duty had explored, and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity, unavailable to many of my colleagues, writing on Joyce and McCullers and John Williams, of corresponding with a living author.

Well, for a while, the first-person plural expanded to include George and I — his famous generosity reached me in successive, somehow gentle shockwaves carried across the Atlantic. I will never forget receiving his reply, straight to my phone while sitting with a friend in Edinburgh’s Cult Espresso. I think I looked back up from my phone an hour later: my friend was gone, my coffee cold, and I was moving through that sort of awe that the best short stories give us.

Unusually, I can now say without glibness or irony that the rest is literary history. You can read it in The White Review.

WOMPS – New Music from Glasgow

Displaced Records’ first-signed band, WOMPS, drop their debut record Our Fertile Forever on 10 June, and I recommend giving it a listen. I spent a few hours and drank a few pints with this new band from Glasgow, “formed from the ashes of Algernon Dolls,” vocalist Ewan Grant’s last solo project, when I was at SxSW in March. Their first show in Austin won me over, and after talking with them on the Cheer Up Charlies patio and later over Skype (they were effusive, curious, modest) I was convinced that this is a band that deserves some international attention.

Check out my interview here and my review of their LP here.

New Poetry: Foundlings Vol. I and Ghost City Review Vol. II

Sunday night marked a special occasion for the Buffalo literary scene: a new poetry magazine was born, in a fete of tears and sausages, IPAs and whiskey-waters, howls and man-hugs and microphone drops. Maybe a few in the audience went out after to evangelize — which is good, because we’ll have to go quiet for a while. We’re not done – last night made that much clear to all of us. We just have to set forth and find new foundlings for volume two.

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Foundlings Poetry Zine Launches May 1st

I’ve kept this under wraps for a while, but Artvoice was cool enough to break the news that Buffalo will be home to a new poetry magazine, Foundlings, which will launch with a “reading and rager” at Sterling Tap and Wurst on 1 May at 7pm.

I’m a co-editor along with my traveling partners Max Crinnin and Steve Coffed; my old Griffin colleague Darren Canham is or Art Director and Graphic Designer. The magazine of words and images features local poets including American Academy of Poets award-winner Crinnin and Just Buffalo Literary Center’s Members Contest winner Justin Karcher, among other great talents.

Artvoice teased one of the poems in our collection – Max’s reverent encomium to Wegmans, “Against the Many Targets” – you can read it here. We hope to see you at Sterling on the 1st. Until then, you can reach out to us through foundlingszine@gmail.com and fine out more at https://www.facebook.com/foundlingszine

 

 

In Austin, TX for SxSW 2016

Music festival reporting can be physically and mentally exhausting: last summer Scotland’s T in the Park saw me haul-assing across a muddy wasteland to catch a very late and very crowded bus, and Latvia’s Positivus (though the accommodations were more comfortable) left my schedule in the hands of some seriously hard partiers. Then Edinburgh’s Fringe made August of 2015 the most hectic month of my life. But I’ve never, as a reporter, felt myself so spiritually and bodily taxed as I did on the last night of SxSW 2016, pondering giving up on a 3-hour queue to see The Roots, enduring unseasonably bitter winds, very aware of having been oversaturated in music and local craft beers for too many consecutive days.

Of course the endurance test was not only “worth it” – it was a privilege. Just taking a glance below at some of the incredible acts I saw in one packed week proves that. Each new day seemed to erase the previous, and only when I type the names out all together do I have any sense of the sheer volume of the good music I heard. You can check out my schedule, with links to my daily posts for The Skinny, below.

SxSW Tuesday 15 March: Thelma and the Sleaze, Gymshorts, Yonatan Gat, St. Lucia, Big Boi

SxSW Wednesday 16 March: WOMPS, Hinds, Mothers, Iggy Pop & Josh Homme

SxSW Thursday 17 March: CHVRCHES, Lucky Chops, Declan McKenna, KLOE, 2 Chainz, Earl Sweatshirt

SxSW Friday 18 March: Duncan Fellows, Joseph, Flo Rida, Charli XCX, Sylvan Esso, Santigold

SxSW Saturday 19 March: Sugarmen, Fizzy Blood, Demob Happy, The Roots

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