Saunders, 55, also saw the award as a further boost for the
short story form, another of whose practitioners, the Canadian
writer Alice Munro, won the Nobel Prize for Literature last
"It seems like a nice moment for it but I've been doing (short)
stories since the '70s. It's sort of like in the women's
magazines when they say red is back. You think, 'Well, when was
it gone?' But it does seem like a good time for short stories."
Saunders, who started out as a geophysicist and worked in the
oil fields of Sumatra before turning to writing, was selected
from a shortlist of eight authors for the new prize sponsored by
the Folio Society publisher of deluxe books.
At an awards ceremony in London, Saunders said he had to give up
his oil exploration work and took up writing in part because
when he was swimming in a river a colony of some 300 monkeys on
a pipeline were defecating into the water.
"I thought, 'Oh, God, I wonder if that's okay' and it wasn't and
I got really sick and that's really where the writing started
because I got so sick I had to quit the job and went home...So I
thank the monkeys tonight," he said.
Saunders said he hoped the award would raise the level of
awareness of the importance of writers in public life,
particularly in America where he said the cash prize would
"I imagine the literary project as being a little bit of a leaky
boat these days — you see in the States a writer can't get on
TV," Saunders said.
"When 9/11 happened, nobody was asking writers what they thought
and I thought it was a real problem....
"So what a prize does is maybe in just the most crass way it
calls the culture's attention to this activity that's been a
The award's sponsors said it is intended to recognize "the best
English-language fiction from around the world" that has been
published in Britain, regardless of form, genre or the author's
"George Saunders's stories are both artful and profound,"
English novelist and poet Lavinia Greenlaw, the chair of the
judges, said in a statement announcing the prize winner.
"Darkly playful, they take us to the edge of some of the most
difficult questions of our time and force us to consider what
lies behind and beyond them. His subject is the human self under
ordinary and extraordinary pressure."
[to top of second column]
TEXAS AS A BOILING POT
The Texas-born Saunders, who was a recipient of the $500,000
MacArthur Fellowship, sometimes called "the genius grant", in 2006,
is a professor of creative writing at Syracuse University in New
He said that Texas where he spent his childhood had provided a rich
background for his fiction.
"Texas is actually sort of a great boiling pot — everything is
there," he said.
Saunders has written several collections of short fiction, including
"Tenth of December" (Bloomsbury), a New York Times bestseller, as
well as popular children's books.
"No one writes more powerfully than George Saunders about the lost,
the unlucky, the disenfranchised, those Americans who struggle to
pay the bills, make the rent, hold onto a job they might detest —
folks who find their dreams slipping from their grasp as they
frantically tread water, trying to keep from drowning," Michiko
Kakutani wrote in a review of "Tenth of December" in The New York
Times in January, 2013.
The other 2014 shortlisted titles were:
"Red Doc" by Anne Carson (Random House/Jonathan Cape)
"Schroder" by Amity Gaige (Faber & Faber)
"Last Friends" by Jane Gardam (Little, Brown)
"Benediction" by Kent Haruf (Picador)
"The Flame Throwers" by Rachel Kushner (Random House/Harvill Secker)
"A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing" by Eimear McBride (Galley Beggar
"A Naked Singularity" by Sergio De La Pava (Maclehose Editions)
($1 = 0.6013 British pounds)
(Editing by Robin Pomeroy)
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