George Saunders' Novel Takes On Abraham Lincoln And A New Kind of Afterlife

Sep 14, 2017

Today on “Two Way Street,” we revisit our conversation with author George Saunders. He spoke with us in March about his first full-length novel “Lincoln in the Bardo,” which takes place during the first 24-hours after Willie Lincoln, President Abraham Lincoln’s 11-year old son, dies. Willie is interred in a Georgetown cemetery, Oak Hill, where he becomes trapped in the bardo—the Tibetan Buddhist concept of a transitional state in between death and rebirth. Saunders was inspired by the bardo discussed in "The Tibetan Book Of The Dead” and says he built upon this tradition to envision a new kind of afterlife.

It was recently announced “Lincoln in the Bardo” has been shortlisted for the prestigious Man Booker Prize

Death is a common theme in his work, which makes sense considering the fact he survived a near-death experience. Three decades ago, he was flying home from a book event when the plane started to descend and fill with black smoke. Saunders says he always imagined he’d be calm and collected in a terrifying event but he tells us how he actually reacted. 

Plus, Saunders discusses his writing process. “Lincoln In The Bardo” has 166 characters but he says this output of creative genius was more due to revision than it was to imagination. Still, Saunders finds inspiration in his dreams and tells us about the vision that inspired his short story “The Semplica-Girl Diaries.”