It's been a long road for Chicagoland native and Oak Forest High School grad George Saunders. From walking the halls of Oak Forest High School, to Asia, back to the U.S. and finally finding a spot to call home at Syracuse University in New York, Saunders has led a whirlwind life filled with fodder for his writing.
Following his graduation from OFHS in 1977, Saunders went to the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colo. He said that, while he struggled through school, he eventually graduated with a degree in geophysics and took a job in Western Indonesia, before coming home to the states, writing a little bit all along the way.
“I worked there for a couple years, got sick and kind of came home and bummed around the United States for a little bit, trying to be Jack Kerouac,” Saunders said.
After his time traveling the country, Saunders found his way into creative writing at Syracuse, where he earned his masters.
Once out of school, Saunders landed a job as a technical writer in Rochester, N.Y., where he began semi-seriously working on his first book. A book Saunders says he wrote during time he should have been working his day job.
“I was stealing time and when the book came out, they kind of got wise,” Saunders said with a laugh. “It became a little harder to hide.”
With his book out and doing decently, a former professor asked Saunders if he'd like to come back to Syracuse to teach. Saunders agreed, but only on a trial basis for the first year. Today, Saunders is still teaching at Syracuse, in the creative writing department.
“It was some much fun, I was just thinking, 'This is great,' and then it became this full-time job,” he said.
After publishing several other books of short stories, novellas and a children's book, Saunders said that his writing career has vastly exceeded his expectations.
“I was such a dope, I really didn't think past the next week. I hoped to get a book out, that was really my end game,” he said. “It's been a really wonderful surprise.”
As for the next generation of writers, Saunders has several tips for breaking into the field and didn't hesitate to share them. Saunders said the number one tip he could give to any young writer is to read—everything.
“It sounds really kinda of fundamental, but the one thing is to just read everything that's out there,” he said. “Especially in high school.”
He added that a good trick is to read the first books of young writers, as it helps connect a young reader to the work, something he said helped him early in his life.
“It really helps you kind of understand the interconnection between your life and literature,” he said.
Saunders said that reading authors that wrote about things he cared about, instead of works set in Russia or Paris in the 1930s, such as books set in the Chicago area opened his eyes to the literary world.
“Young writers often want to write, but they don't really want to read,” he said. “Just like if you're going to be a guitar player, your first job is going to be listening to a million albums and let that kind of permeate your understanding. Just read a bunch and then the writing will come along.”
George Saunders' latest book, 'Tenth of December: Stories,' is currently being lauded as 'the Best Book You'll Read This Year,' by The New York Times and is available everywhere books are sold.