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SU’s Saunders named 2006 MacArthur Fellow
SU’s Saunders named 2006 MacArthur FellowSeptember 19, 2006Kevin Morrowkdmorrow@syr.edu
George Saunders, associate professor of English in Syracuse University’s College of Arts and Sciences (A&S), today was named one of 25 new MacArthur Fellows by The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The 2006 recipients of the prestigious award — selected for “their creativity, originality and potential to make important contributions in the future” — will each receive a total of $500,000 in no-strings-attached support paid over the next five years.
Saunders is SU’s second recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship, known popularly as a “genius grant”: Don Mitchell, professor and chair of the geography department in A&S and the Maxwell School, was named a MacArthur Fellow in 1998.
“Syracuse University is proud and excited that George Saunders has been selected as a MacArthur Fellow,” says Chancellor and President Nancy Cantor. “George is a highly distinguished author and scholar who has made a profound impact both in the literary field through his writings and on our students through his teaching here at Syracuse. He is one of today’s greatest writers and is truly deserving of this highly prestigious award.”
“George Saunders is one of our most accomplished and imaginative faculty colleagues and is internationally renowned for the caliber and wit of his fiction,” says A&S Dean Cathryn R. Newton. “The MacArthur Award recognizes George’s brilliance as a writer. We also celebrate his tremendous accomplishments as a teacher of creative writing here at Syracuse.”
In addition to the MacArthur Fellowship, Saunders was named a 2006 Guggenheim Fellow this past April. He teaches in SU’s M.F.A. program in creative writing. Saunders has published three collections of short stories — “In Persuasion Nation” (Riverhead Books, 2006), “Pastoralia” (Riverhead Books, 2000) and “CivilWarLand in Bad Decline” (Riverhead Books, 1996) — as well as an illustrated novella, “The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil” (Penguin Books, 2005), and a children’s book, “The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip” (Random House, 2000).
His fiction has appeared in The New Yorker, Harper’s, Esquire and numerous other publications. He won the National Magazine Award in 1994 for his story “The 400-pound CEO” and again in 1996 for the story “Bounty.” He was named one of Entertainment Weekly’s top 100 most creative people in entertainment (2001) and one of The New Yorker’s best writers 40 and under (2000).
During the last year, he has been writing travel-related pieces for GQ Magazine on trips to Dubai, Nepal and most recently during a drive along the Mexican border.
Saunders’ mordantly hilarious tales retain, at their core, deep sympathy and compassion for the lives he depicts. Characterized by a blend of contrasting elements, much of his fantastic and fanciful writings combine satire and surrealism with a naturalistic, colloquial use of language. With a keen eye for absurdity, a precise ear for vernacular dialogue and a distinctively deadpan narrative voice, Saunders explores the poignant disappointments of his downtrodden characters and the slightly skewed, vaguely futuristic version of American society they inhabit. While his stories are humorous, the moral dilemmas faced by his fictional mothers, husbands, siblings and neighbors underscore their humanity and lend gravity to his work.
Prior to joining the SU faculty in 1997, Saunders was a technical writer and geophysical engineer at Radian International in Rochester, N.Y. He has also explored for oil in Sumatra, played guitar in a Texas bar band and worked in a slaughterhouse.
Saunders earned a B.Sc. degree at the Colorado School of Mines in 1981 and an M.F.A. degree in creative writing at SU in 1988.
MacArthur Fellowships come without stipulations or reporting requirements, offering the opportunity for fellows to accelerate their current activities or take their work in new directions. The unusual level of independence afforded to fellows underscores the spirit of freedom intrinsic to creative endeavors. Fellowships are awarded to women and men of all ages and at all career stages. This year’s recipients include a jazz violinist, a developmental biologist, a sculptor, a cosmologist, a naturalist, an aviation engineer and a deep-sea explorer.
“There is something palpable about this group of MacArthur Fellows — about their character as explorers and pioneers at the absolute cutting edge,” says Daniel J. Socolow, director of the MacArthur Fellows Program. “These are people pushing boldly to change, improve and protect our world, to make it a better place for all of us. This program was designed for such people — designed to provide an extra measure of freedom, visibility and opportunity to sustain and nurture their trajectories.”
“The annual announcement of the MacArthur Fellows is a special opportunity to celebrate the creative individual in our midst,” says MacArthur President Jonathan Fanton. “For 26 years, the MacArthur Fellows Program has recognized and supported individuals who inspire us. This new group of MacArthur Fellows illustrates our conviction that talented and creative individuals, free to follow their insights and instincts, will reveal new discoveries and make a difference in shaping our future.”