On Interviewing George Saunders
By Sarah Klein Here’s the thing about interviewing George Saunders - It’s not really an interview. It’s a mind meld. Actually, I highly doubt that is how he felt but that is EXACTLY how I felt.
Miranda July wrote about this similar phenomenon in her interview with Rihanna for The New York Times. She wrote, “My understanding, from the moment she sat down, was that we were in love. We were the most in love any two people had ever been. The sun was finally setting. We’d been talking for almost two hours. I just had one more question.”
This idea of love makes me feel slightly uncomfortable. It wasn’t love. It was synergy.
We were at Syracuse University, where he teaches, surrounded by gear: cameras, green-screens, large blinding lights and a microphone that had this ominous position over George’s head. It’s basically the worst part of doing interviews that aren’t for print or radio. Everyone in the room has to pretend that sitting in this surreal environment, half-blinded, is really the perfect place to have an intimate conversation.
My first question was something insanely broad like: “What is a story”? Looking back, I think, “Really? That’s the way you started it?” but I can’t take that back.
George leaned forward, locked eyes with me and just started talking. For two hours, the setting melted away and it was all ideas, building, bouncing off walls - flowing in all directions. I felt that slowly, minute-by-minute, he was building a case to me for a way to approach life. At the very least he was screaming to my subconscious “CREATE. CREATE. CREATE.” And that is the thing with interviewing uniquely creative people. They usually don’t keep it all to themselves, something in their very posture towards life is a call to action.
When the interview was over we all got up and I admit that I felt like we were distant relatives that had been lost and had found each other after years of searching. We had ordered sandwiches before the interview and sat down to eat them. I almost felt bold enough to say something like “I’ll trade my cheddar potato chips for your salt and vinegar” because deep down, after that interview, I felt like I could intuit that he actually would like that trade as much as I would.
And then it happened. It was the last five minutes or so and we all knew that if we were ever going to get books signed, this would be the time. So we pulled out our books, and, well, I had three of them for him to sign. I noticed that he looked a bit overwhelmed, not at all the way he had seemed for the previous two hours. Then I said it, in reference to his latest book The Tenth of December “Oh”, I said, “By the way, that’s my daughter’s birthday.” He smiled politely and said as gently as he could, "...yes, yes, I’ve heard that a few times before."