To help prepare you for the third annual History and the American Imagination, we have compiled a brief list of readings from George Saunders and Imani Perry. This list is by no means exhaustive, but we feel that this selection offers a taste of what will be on display for you on the evening of October 5: compassion, wonder, insight, and generosity.
In the lead up to the event, HNY will be hosting an online Community Conversation at 8pm on Wednesday, September 29. This free conversation will be held via Zoom. For the purpose of that conversation, we will focus on George Saunders’ advice to graduates. Please read that essay before the conversation.
Register here for the Community Conversation. And get your tickets for the George Saunders & Imani Perry conversation here. If you enter the discount code FRIEND at checkout, you will receive a 50% discount off our membership ticket.
“Congratulations, by the way: George Saunders’ Advice to Graduates”
What do you regret? How do we avoid creating a history of regret? How do we lead lives of fulfillment? In this Syracuse University commencement speech, which draws on the wit, humility, and generosity of spirit that animates all of his work, Saunders offers up some candid, simple, difficult-to-live-up-to advice for achieving a magnanimous and satisfied life.
“What Writers Really Do When they Write”
Starting with the origin of the idea that became his first novel, the mesmerizing, heartbreaking, and hilarious Lincoln in the Bardo, Saunders discusses the blend of aesthetic instinct, moral reckoning, self-revelation, and revision that accompany his writing process. This is done in pursuit of “a hopeful notion, because it implies that our minds are built on common architecture – that whatever is present in me might also be present in you.”
”George Saunders Has Written the Best Book You’ll Read This Year”
This wide ranging profile published by The New York Times Magazine just before the publication of The Tenth of December, is one of the most complete portraits of Saunders that has been written.
In this remarkable reported essay, Saunders explores the mystery of a 15-year-old Nepali boy who had been motionless – consuming neither water nor food – for seven months. Although Saunders doesn’t resolve the mystery, this elegant, enchanting, and very funny piece juxtaposes the chaos of our habitual lives, and the pursuit of desires that motivate much of our lives, with the remarkable alienness and beauty of asceticism.
This story, the titular piece from Saunders’ first book, sets forth the type of world that much of his other writing examines. It is, as Saunders himself once said of a Chekhov story, “a furious and wonderful moral-ethical object,” a magical realist collision of empathy, cruelty, and social decay.
“My Writing Education: A Timeline”
This brief personal essay presents itself as a history of Saunder’s relationships with some of his professors in the Syracuse University writing program. It is. But more importantly, this essay offers a brief overview of moral education and how the best teachers are the best role models, in both art and life.
In this brief, comic essay from 2003 Saunders details the evolution of the fictional academic discipline of “Patriotic Studies,” which “first established the existence of the so-called “fluid-nations,” entities functionally identical to the more traditional geographically based nations…save for their lack of…‘“spatial/geographic contiguity.’” Citizenship in fluid nations is defined not by geography but by “values, loyalties, and/or habitual patterns of behavior.”
“An Interview with George Saunders”
This 2021 interview was published after the release of Saunders’ A Swim in the Pond in the Rain.
George Saunders on the Writing Life (video)
In this in-depth conversation with the NYPL”s Paul Holdengraber, Saunders dives into his life as a creative artist.
Racism is Terrible. Blackness is Not.
In this essay, written during the summer of 2020, Perry disentangles much of white America’s confusion about the pride of being black and the pain of enduring suffering because of that blackness. Although many African Americans publicly grieve the arbitrary killing of Black men and women at the hands of police, African American culture is not – and has never been – reducible to grief and suffering.
She Changed Black Literature Forever. Then She Disappeared.
This celebration of novelist Gayl Jones is one of the most potent “write arounds” (magazine profiles where the subject refuses to be interviewed or can’t be found) in recent decades. Although the focus here is, as it should be, on Jones’ often overlooked but staggeringly profound work, we include it here to showcase some of Perry’s cardinal virtues: her intellectual rigor, her curiosity, and her generosity.
As Goes the South, So Goes the Nation
Perry was born in Alabama. In this rich, evocative essay exploring race and racism in the South, she sifts through the history of her homeland seeking clues to the future of our nation.