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A Russian Lit Course Comes to Life with George Saunders and Tobias Wolff

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George Saunders and Tobias Wolff will discuss Saunders' newest book on Jan. 15. (Penguin Random House; © Zachary Krahmer; © Marion Ettlinger)

The Bay Area Book Festival, usually a May event, was canceled last year along with, well, everything. But the six-year-old and much-loved event, which usually hosts 250–300 authors on 15 stages, nimbly adapted to the world of virtual programming, staging a three-day mini fest last October. (All those talks, which include the likes of W. Kamau Bell, Annalee Newitz and Steve Kerr, are now available on their YouTube channel.)

Living up to those big names, one of the organization’s first events of 2021 is a Jan. 15, 7–8pm conversation between Booker Prize winner George Saunders (Lincoln in the Bardo) and National Medal of the Arts honoree Tobias Wolff (This Boy’s Life). They’ll be discussing Saunders’ newest book A Swim in a Pond in the Rain: In Which Four Russians Give a Master Class on Writing, Reading, and Life, which comes out on Jan. 12.

The ubiquity of online events has made it easier to skip them in recent months, but like IRL talks (remember those?) this conversation will happen only once and will not be re-aired. The $40 tickets include signed copies of A Swim in a Pond in the Rain, which collects the short stories of Chekhov, Turgenev, Tostoy and Gogol alongside seven essays by Saunders on their artistry. For two decades, Saunders has taught a course on these storytelling greats to his students at Syracuse University; this book allows us all to enroll in that class—and in this talk, count Tobias Wolff among our classmates.

Consider this an amuse-bouche for the main course, a full-fledged (though still virtual) Bay Area Book Festival, scheduled for May 1–9, 2021.

Tickets and more information here.


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