David Sedaris: The Unquiet American

Short profile of David Sedaris from the Times Online (I have the audio book of While You’re Engulfed in Flames which I’m about to start listening to soon):

When so much clamour greets even D-list celebrities, it is curious that Sedaris, who has sold more than seven million books, been nominated for Grammys, filled Carnegie Hall, whose every volume of memoir begins with pages of lavish ecomiums comparing him to Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, lives in London almost unnoticed. Indeed, he considered calling his latest book Indefinite Leave to Remain after the British immigration status he was granted two years ago: “I liked the little contradiction in the phrase.” He passed his Home Office test on UK life: its quirky questions —“How old do you have to be to deliver milk?” — appealed to an American humorist fascinated by the oddness of the everyday.

Perhaps his low-key profile is intrinsic to his appeal: readers love him so intensely because they feel that they discovered him themselves. Sedaris rarely appears on TV (“I don’t want to be seen as just a personality with a typewriter”) although he travels the world giving huge, sold-out readings.

Mostly he writes about his upbringing in a loud, Greek-American clan in Raleigh, North Carolina, but his outsiderness — being gay, odd-looking, drifting between college courses and lame jobs into sundry addictions — renders his humour unflinching and often very dark. In his most recent volume, called When You Are Engulfed in Flames, he discusses the etiquette dilemmas arising from when a neighbour in the Normandy village where he owns a house is jailed as a paedophile, and the first time he told anyone he was gay ( to explain to a man who’d picked him up hitchhiking why he didn’t want to have sex, right there in the car, with his negligée-clad wife).


  1. My teenage daughter recently waited 6 hours at a book signing to meet him. She gave him a pair of boxers that she had made, personalized with the name of one of his books “Naked” as a gift.

    Two weeks later he sent her a post card thanking her and telling her how talented she is. He’s not only a wonderful writer, but he’s also a nice guy.

  2. Yeah his books are hilarious. By the way, Chris, it’s “When you are engulfed in flames,” not “while”. but it’s your blog, do whatever you want.

  3. I love love LOVE David Sedaris! I had heard his bits on This American Life, then my boyfriend introduced me to his writing by giving me “Me Talk Pretty One Day” for my birthday a few years ago. I wish I could tell stories with his perfect wit.

  4. Also, my friend met him when she took her English club to see him read at San Jose State. She said he was very friendly and just as witty in person 🙂

    1. Last comment, promise. She also said he was kind of insane, but in a good way. He drew a picture of a whale in a bikini smoking or something in a book that he signed for someone in her group.

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