A Most Exclusive Workshop

“I began to understand art as a kind of black box the reader enters. He enters in one state of mind and exits in another.” George Saunders

To study under George Saunders, a writer could get into the creative writing program at Syracruse University and perhaps get into one of Saunders’ writing workshops–some having as few as five students. You could read his book based on his workshop on Russian short stories A Swim in a Pond in the Rain. You won’t find him on social media where he believes it’s “100% toxic for people to be firing off the top of their brains.” But you can sign up for his class, Story Club, on Substack. Parts of it are free, but if you want access to everything, you can pay $50.

Why would you do that?

Because there are few writers as good as Saunders at analyzing and understanding how reading and writing work. The author of numerous short stories and the novel Lincoln in the Bardo his honors range from the PEN/Malamud Award to finalist in the National Book Award to the Booker Prize and stops in-betweenHe’s won both a MacArthur and Guggenheim fellowship. But not all award-winning authors can or will explain what they’re doing or what they see other authors doing.

Not only is Saunders an insightful, thoughtful analyst of what makes a story work, he has wonderfully generous attitude toward teaching and students. It reminds me of that rule in improv theater that you never say “no” to whatever is tossed your way. You say “yes, and…”  so the sketch keeps going and maybe turns into something magical. In that same way, Saunders bends the story analysis and reaction on Story Club toward mutual appreciation and discovery.

I also like that his focus as a writer and as a teacher seems to be about how a story becomes that black box of transformation. Isn’t emotional charge and transformation what any reader and writer hopes for? That’s what Saunders looks for in his own writing and that’s what he hopes to teach his students.

If you’re a reader who likes to talk about stories or a writer, I highly recommending checking out Story Club at: https://georgesaunders.substack.com

Here’s a little more about Saunders himself:

5 responses to “A Most Exclusive Workshop

  1. What a wonderful thought, studying with George Saunders! I loved Lincoln in the Bardo, and A Swim in the Pond in the Rain sent me off to the library to get stories by Turgenev. Thanks for the heads-up, Bonny, and for the links.

  2. Thanks for telling us about this, Bonny. A Swim… is within arm’s reach of my drawing table next to my other favorite writing books (Bird By Bird, What If? and Katherine Paterson’s Gates of Excellence). Can’t wait to check these links out.

  3. Saunders is so good at and respectful of the mysterious process of writing. I always perk up after reading his thoughts about writing.

  4. George Saunders is one of my favorite writers, the very first story I read by him still sticks with me. I love that you posted about this, Bonny, thank you! I’ve been reading the free Story Club emails and keeping them in their own folder to return to or share.

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