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Sponsorship Allows YCP Students to Attend Harrisburg Book Festival Keynote

Student studying in Schmidt Library
A York College of Pennsylvania student reading in the Schmidt Library.

Written by Nate Leakway ‘24, a Professional Writing major and intern for the Office of Communications

The Harrisburg Book Festival, sponsored by the Midtown Scholar Bookstore and cosponsored by York College, concluded on Oct. 22 after five days of events that featured authors from around the country discussing their work in front of live audiences. Through the College, students were able to claim free tickets to attend the event’s Keynote Address, a conversation between author George Saunders and The New Yorker’s Jia Tolentino.

Saunders is the bestselling author of 11 books, including A Swim in a Pond in the Rain, and the Booker Prize-winning Lincoln in the Bardo. He is widely considered one of the contemporary masters of the short story, and has published five collections, including CivilWarLand in Bad Decline and Persuasion Nation. Those who purchased tickets to see him speak on Oct. 18 received a free signed copy of his newest collection, Liberation Day, which is one of the New York Times’ Notable Books of the Year. 

The event was held in the main auditorium of The Whitaker Center in downtown Harrisburg. A few hundred people showed up for the event, in which Saunders answered questions about his career, his process, and his most recent publication in his usual, comical, self-deprecating style.

Nick Stump ‘27, a Professional Writing major, was one of the students in attendance. “I like to go to as many author events as I can,” he said. “Thanks to York College, the event was free, so I felt that passing it up would be throwing away something that was handed to me.” 

Nick says that prior to attending the event, he had not heard of Saunders, but that hearing him speak prompted him to pick up a copy of Liberation Day. “I read a few pages already,” says Nick. “The writing is good. I can definitely see why it is award-winning.”

In his conversation with author Jia Tolentino, Saunders was very open about his insecurities, inspirations, and process. “Getting to hear Saunders talk about the morals behind his writing was inspiring,” says Nick. “His comedic personality made it so these heavy topics didn’t seem too academic, and the advice he gave was actually helpful.”

One piece of advice offered by Saunders was his refutation of the notion that writers need to arrive at a big idea before sitting down to write. He advised writers in the audience to sit down at their writing desk without any big ideas, to experiment, and to see where the process takes them.

“Saunders says that writing takes time, and you have to let the book write itself,” says Nick. “If you are stuck, sometimes you have to wait for the answer to hit you. Sometimes, no matter how much you write, the answer will not come until it wants to.”

Saunders described his work as dealing with the “everyday struggle between capitalism and grace.” Liberation Day is concerned with this struggle as well, and many of its stories center around themes of class and the ways in which those in power justify dehumanizing other people. Throughout the talk, Saunders repeatedly referenced his work as a means through which he is able to access his higher self. “The best me unfortunately doesn't come out in real life, but it does at the writing desk,” he said.

Nick found the talk inspirational, and urges other students to take advantage of similar opportunities in the future. “I have had the privilege of going to multiple author interviews like this, and each one is a joy,” he say. “I myself want to be an author, so getting to hear how other authors succeeded gives me motivation to keep working towards being an author. I would encourage anyone who wants to be an author or who just enjoys reading to go to these events.”

Interested York College students should be on the lookout for emails detailing future literary events in the area.