The Wheeler Centre
View all episodes in this series
Paula Saunders: The Distance Home
Paula Saunders has described her debut novel, The Distance Home, as a 'completely American story.' Especially, she says, because 'it's a story of division – of the haves and have-nots, the accepted and rejected.'
'Children really do have insight … they have the feeling of what's fair and what's not fair, and how things might play out – and especially what the hurt might be that can be carried forward from an event.'
The Distance Home is a novel of the Midwest – a tale of ambition, aggression and family faultlines – and it was one of the strongest US debuts of 2018. Praised by the likes of Jennifer Egan and Michael Cunningham, and positively reviewed in the New York Times, it's a family epic that explores a pervasive and destructive obsession with success and failure. The book draws on Saunders's own early life in rural South Dakota and her experiences as a gifted ballet dancer. It tells the story of young sibling dancers in Rapid City in the 1960s and their efforts to move beyond the sometimes corrosive influence of their parents.
Saunders's novel squares up to the big existential questions – how are we shaped by our parents, our culture and our place in history and geography? – and searches for answers with compassion, sensitivity and insight.
As part of our Mayhem series, she joins Michael Williams to talk American dreams and American dysfunction.
Paula Saunders grew up in Rapid City, South Dakota. She danced as an apprentice with the Harkness Ballet in New York City under the direction of David Howard. She is a graduate of Barnard College as well as the Syracuse University creative writing program, where she was a student of Tobias Wolff and Douglas Unger. She was awarded a post-graduate Albert Schweitzer Humanities Fellowship at the State University of New York at Albany, under then-Schweitzer chair Toni Morrison. Her first book, The Distance Home, was long-listed for The Center for Fiction’s 2018 First Novel Prize. She lives in California with her husband. They have two grown daughters.
Michael Williams is the Director of the Wheeler Centre for Books, Writing and Ideas in Melbourne. He has worked at the Wheeler Centre since inception in 2009, when he was hired as the Head of Programming before being appointed as Director in September 2011.
He has hosted Blueprint for Living (2015–2016), then Talkfest (2017–2019), on ABC RN. He remains a regular guest on ABC Radio and TV. Michael has also worked as a Breakfast presenter for Melbourne’s 3RRR, as a member of the Australia Council’s Literature Board, in publishing and has written extensively for the Guardian, the Age, Sydney Morning Herald, Australian and elsewhere.