"Good God, but Life Could Be Less Than Easy": George Saunders and the Fiction of Radical Humanism

deadline for submissions: 
January 22, 2017
full name / name of organization: 
Loyola University Chicago - Hank Center for Catholic Intellectual Heritage
contact email: 

Loyola University Chicago is seeking abstract proposals for a day-long event to be held March 1, 2018, featuring critically-acclaimed fiction author George Saunders. In light of the upcoming softcover version of Lincoln in the Bardo (winner of the 2017 Man Booker Prize for Fiction) and the recent release of George Saunders: Critical Essays (Palgrave, 2017), Loyola’s Hank Center, in collaboration with other university communities, seeks to explore, interrogate, and celebrate Saunders’s work.

Topics include the dynamic link between humor and humanity, metaphysics and the mundane, fiction and faith, literary representations of liminal spaces, compassion and tenderness, Chicago culture, Abe Lincoln and “civil warring,” and American politics in all of its convulsive contemporary forms. This event especially focuses on bringing these themes into conversation with Catholic and Buddhist thought, the aesthetics of the transcendent, and the state of moral agency in the late modern age through the lens of Saunders’s work.

The conference will feature traditional conference panels interspersed with creative expressions and responses to the conference themes. The event will also include a morning address from George Saunders, a visit from the students at 826CHI, and a public evening event which includes a reading from Saunders-- along with a set of surprises that will no doubt please the gathered crowd.


Given the size and nature of the conference, we are open to abstract submissions covering a wide range of topics and formats surrounding George Saunders, from traditional academic conference papers to creative interpretations of conference themes. Throughout the day, panel discussions will focus on specific aspects of George Saunders’s work as they relate to topics such as Chicago as writing context, ghosts and unresolved conflict, serious comedy and grim humor, and the nature of transcendence/spirituality in the author’s work.

Please send abstracts of up to 400 words to hankconferences@luc.edu by January 22, 2018. For creative presentations, please send either a short sample or a brief description of your concept.



Papers organized around the concept of “radical tenderness” and “new sincerity” as a political, religious, and aesthetic principle: what overlaps or contradictions between Western and Eastern spiritualities do Saunders’s stories suggest? In what ways might a worldview organized around empathy offer possible means of in the Trump era? In what ways does it fall short or fail to satisfy?


Papers organized around Saunders’s relationship to Chicago, Midwestern literature, and the role of the city in American writing. Is there something about Chicago that bears influence on young American writers?


In Saunders, satire and humor usually serve a larger moment of reckoning, horror, or redemption within the human experience. Often the most disturbing or moving moments in his work occur not in spite of but through comedic structures. As GK Chesterton quipped, “Funny is not the opposite of serious; it’s the opposite of not-funny.” How might this insight expand and complicate critical discourse? How does humor inform Saunders’s work?


Disembodied spirits seeking closure inhabit many of Saunders’s stories, sometimes centrally so. His stories often coalesce in the passing of a character’s person into some kind of metaphysical beyond. Can we speak about “transformation” or transcendence in these terms without implying a theology? Do these stories bear thematic or emotional weight without their invocation of the afterlife?


In addition to these topics, we extend a special invitation to creative writers, poets, stage and voice actors, and digital artists to consider writing and presenting performative responses to conference themes, especially as they relate to the concept of the “bardo,” people in “intermediate states," and the like.

Please send additional questions to mmurphy23@luc.edu or jhawkins8@luc.edu.