Symposium Schedule

Klarcheck Information Commons, 4th Floor

9-10:15 AM          PLENARY ADDRESS: GEORGE SAUNDERS                 

10:15-10:30 AM   BREAK

10:30-11:45 AM   PANEL SESSION I
George Saunders in the Humanities: Intimate Pasts, Empathetic Presents, Posthuman Futures
This panel brings George Saunders’s fiction into social and literary contexts through narrative analysis, comedy studies, and affect theory. From Djuna Barnes to class consciousness to prosthetics and technology, these readings all hold the stunning emotional power of Saunders’s stories in tension with some other aspect of our world.

Panel I Presenters
Alex Miller: Post-Posthuman Aesthetics and Neoliberal Prosthetics: George Saunders and the Technologies of Affect 
Alex Miller is a lecturer at the University of Washington Tacoma, where he teaches literature and Ethnic, Gender, and Labor studies and serves as the Assistant Director in the Office of Undergraduate Education. His presentation today is part of an ongoing project that explores the role of affect in post-postmodern literature and expands upon his previously published Saunders-related scholarship.

Emma Sullivan: ‘A Super Field Trip’: Class, Compassion and Comedy in George Saunders’s Short Fiction
Emma Sullivan is a fourth year Ph.D. candidate at the University of Edinburgh, funded by a UK Arts and Humanities Research Council grant. Emma completed her BA (Hons) in English Language and Literature at Brasenose College, Oxford, and her MA in Modern and Contemporary Literature at Birkbeck, University of London. Emma served as co-editor of Forum: University of Edinburgh Postgraduate Journal of Culture and the Arts from June 2015 – May 2016, and edited Issues 20, ‘Public/Private’, (with Sarah Bernstein) and 21, ‘Ideological Conflict’ (with Matthew Tibble). Her research examines humor as a strategy for humanism in the work of George Saunders, Donald Antrim, Miranda July, and Jordan Peele.

Shelby R. Sleevi: “It was all too much, too private”: Intimate Narration in George Saunders and Djuna Barnes
Shelby Sleevi received her BA from Wheeling Jesuit University in 2010 and her MA from Georgetown University in 2012. She is now in her fourth year of the PhD in English program at Loyola University Chicago, where she studies twentieth and twenty-first century literature and narrative theory. Shelby is currently working on a dissertation that explores the legacies of literary modernism in more contemporary texts. She is also a co-manager at the Loyola Community Literacy Center, a free ESL tutoring service for adults in the Chicago area. 

Panel I Moderator: Priyanka Jacob, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of English, Loyola University Chicago

11:45 AM             LUNCH 

Teaching George Saunders
Join LUC English Department graduate students to discuss teaching George Saunders in the classroom. We will compare lesson plans, talk about the challenges and joys of student responses to Saunders’s short stories, and do some pedagogical problem-solving together.

Roundtable Moderator: John C. Hawkins
John C. Hawkins is pursuing his PhD in English, with a concentration in Women’s and Gender Studies, at Loyola University Chicago.  His current research focuses on relational animals, and especially dogs, as affective agents in mid-twentieth century U.S. fiction and media.  In addition to helping organize this conference, John serves as the assistant director of Loyola’s Writing Center.  George Saunders is one of a few authors who first inspired him to teach and study English as a vocation.

John will be joined by Loyola English Department colleagues Timothy Koppang, Shelby Sleevi, and Casey Jergenson.

1-1:15 PM            BREAK

1:15-2:15 PM       PANEL SESSION II
George Saunders and God Talk: Theologies of Narrative Art
This session locates and interrogates philosophies, theologies, and spiritualities at work in the fiction of George Saunders. From meditations on the moral resonance of Kierkegaard and Walker Percy to reflections on David Foster Wallace and the spirituality of sincerity, our panel examines Saunders’s religious imagination and the role it plays in his work.

Panel II Presenters
Michael O’Connell, Ph.D.: “Life is Rough and Death is Coming”: George Saunders’s Diagnostic Fictions 
Michael O’Connell received his doctorate in English from Loyola University Chicago in 2013, and is currently Assistant Professor of Humanities at Sienna Heights University. His presentation today will explore Saunders’s “diagnoses” of “root problems” in society (like consumerism and technophilia) and the spiritualities (like Buddhism and Catholicism) that Saunders weaves into his prose that become resources of resistance and repair.

W. Brett Wiley, Ph.D.: Sincere People Act: George Saunders’ Religious Characters
Dr. W. Brett Wiley is a Professor of English and Director of the Honors Program at Mount Vernon Nazarene University in central Ohio. His current research is on the use of both Christian and Buddhist teachings in the short stories of George Saunders. His presentation today examines several “religious” characters in Saunders’s fiction and argues that “Saunders’s sincere portrayals reflect religiosity as practical belief” (in the vein of Amy Hungerford’s “postmodern belief”) rather than theology which reflects a “Buddhist perspective.”

Panel II Moderator: Elisabeth Bayley, Ph.D., Lecturer, Department of English, Loyola University Chicago

2:15-2:30 PM       BREAK

2:30-3 PM            PANEL SESSION III
Saunders In The Land Of Lincoln
This session discusses Saunders’s depiction of Lincoln. It will discuss Lincoln’s kindness and compassion, Lincoln’s grief over the death of his son Willie, Lincoln’s melancholy and preoccupation with death and human mortality, and Lincoln’s episodes of deep depression. It features readings from several of Lincoln’s poems, including “The Suicide’s Soliloquy.”

Panel III Presenter
Thomas L. Carson, Ph.D.: Saunders’s Portrait of Lincoln
Thomas L. Carson is Professor of Philosophy at Loyola University Chicago. He taught previously at Virginia Tech (1977–1985) and UCLA (1976). He is author of four books including Lincoln’s Ethics (Cambridge University Press, 2015).

Panel III Moderator: Michael P. Murphy, Ph.D., Director, The Hank Center for the Catholic Intellectual Heritage

3-3:15 PM            BREAK

3:15-4 PM            PANEL SESSION IV
Chicago Responds To George Saunders: A Creative Afternoon
This creative collaboration of local authors features fiction and performance collected around ideas presented in George Saunders’s larger body of work.

Panel IV Presenters
Juan Martinez
Juan Martinez is the author of Best Worst American, a story collection. He lives in Chicago. He’s an assistant professor at Northwestern University. His work has appeared in many literary journals and anthologies, including Glimmer Train, McSweeney’s, Huizache, Ecotone, NPR’s Selected Shorts, Mississippi Review and elsewhere, and is forthcoming in the anthology Who Will Speak for America? Visit and say hi at

Margaret Hawkins
Margaret Hawkins is the author of three novels and one memoir: Lydia’s Party (Viking Penguin, 2014), How We Got Barb Back: The Story of My Sister’s Reawakening After 30 Years of Schizophrenia (Conari, 2011), How to Survive a Natural Disaster (Permanent Press, 2010), and A Year of Cats and Dogs (Permanent Press, 2009). She is a former columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times and teaches in the New Arts Journalism Department at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Her essay, On Getting Lost, appears in the newly released She Can Find Her Way (Upper Hand, 2017), an anthology of women’s travel writing.

David Macey
David Macey is a past winner of the Atlantic’s annual writing contest and a Willis Barnstone Translation Prize finalist. His stories, essays, poems, and verse translations have appeared in Ecotone, AGNI, The Literary Review, Sweet, Third Coast, and elsewhere. He is a Ph.D. candidate at Loyola University Chicago and will soon defend his dissertation Fake News and News Anxiety in Early Modern England.​

4-4:40 PM            CREATIVE READING: 826CHI
To conclude the creative afternoon, we will hear readings from the students of 826Chi, a creative writing non-profit that serves Chicago youth. After the students read, George Saunders will speak with them about their work and his.