Is George Saunders in Lucky Hank Based on the Real Writer?

Image Credit: Sergei Bachlakov/AMC

The second episode of AMC’s drama series ‘Lucky Hank’ follows famed writer George Saunders’ arrival at Railton College for an interview with his friend and fellow writer William Henry “Hank” Devereaux, Jr. Saunders also interacts with Hank’s students, who love him considerably more than his professor. The writer’s re-entry to his life makes Hank re-evaluate his life as a writer. The two friends eventually open up about their admiration for each other. Since Saunders is a highly acclaimed writer in real life, the viewers must be wondering whether the character’s storyline is outrightly inspired by the writer’s life. Well, here’s what we can share about the same! SPOILERS AHEAD.

George Saunders: Fictionalized Version of Real-Life Acclaimed Author

George Saunders in ‘Lucky Hank’ is a completely fictionalized version of the real-life author. Saunders is one of the most acclaimed writers of our time. A recipient of the Booker Prize and MacArthur Fellowship, Saunders became a significant voice in the American literary scene towards the end of the twentieth century, publishing his first short story collection in 1996. Although the writer was acclaimed even in the late 1990s, he hadn’t yet become the reputed writer he is now at the time. Therefore, it is unlikely that he had attended a heavily financed literary session in the mid-1990s, during the time when Richard Russo was writing ‘Straight Man,’ the source novel of the series.

Image Credit: Sergei Bachlakov/AMC

‘Lucky Hank’ is a television adaptation of Russo’s novel, which was inspired by the writer’s experiences as an English professor at institutions such as Southern Illinois University Carbondale, Southern Connecticut State University, Penn State Altoona, and Colby College. In the novel, there isn’t any mention of George Saunders, which makes it clear that the writer’s interview session and interaction with students didn’t happen in real life at any of the institutions Russo taught English. Thus, it is safe to assume that the particular storyline is fictional and was conceived by Paul Lieberstein and Aaron Zelman, developers of the series and the writers of the second episode.

Lieberstein and Zelman must have created the fictionalized version of Saunders to explore Hank’s life as a writer. When Saunders arrives at Railton College as one of the most significant writers of the time, Hank becomes insecure as a writer since he hasn’t written anything for over a decade, especially after his failed first novel. Hank becomes jealous of Saunders’ growth since they published their first works around the same time. The realization that his father William Henry Devereaux has championed Saunders more than his real son further affects Hank. The episode explores the professor’s tumultuous relationship with his father, also through Saunders’ relationship with the latter.

Image Credit: The Late Show with Stephen Colbert/YouTube

Rather than conceiving an outrightly fictional writer character, Lieberstein and Zelman must have conceived the fictionalized version of Saunders to make the storyline authentic. Since the writer’s achievements and significance are familiar to the viewers, placing him alongside a failed and forgotten writer like Hank is possibly the best way to depict how “stuck” the latter has been as a writer. If the writers of the episode had to rely on a completely fictional character, they would have had to create an extensive backstory to establish the same as a famed writer. By conceiving the fictionalized version of Saunders, the developers manage to use the real-life writer’s achievements as the foundation of the same, making the character authentic and established in the narrative of the series without an extensive additional backstory.

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