David Sedaris has written seven books.
David Sedaris has written seven books. (SUBMITTED)
David Sedaris used to be that guy. Standing in line. Clutching a book. Waiting for an author's autograph.

As he inched closer, his mind would race. He had to come up with that perfect, thought-provoking question.

Inevitably, the exchange would go something like this:

Writer: "What's your name?"

Sedaris: "I loved your last book."

Writer: Signs book.

Sedaris: Mutters "thank you" as he shuffles off, silently berating himself for choking.

So, when Sedaris, a bestselling author often heralded as one of the foremost humorists of our time, sits in front of a line of people clutching copies of his books as they frantically formulate questions, he likes to keep things interesting.

"I try to ask them questions," Sedaris said during a recent interview from his home in England. "Sometimes, I find things out that are startling. People will answer pretty much whatever you ask them."

He's chatted with people who catch their poop to keep it from plopping into the toilet water of public bathrooms.

He's had someone tell him about his father's habit of wearing other people's underwear.

An Australian crowd was very eager to tell him how much money they make. (Americans don't want to hear.)

Lord knows what locals will tell him during his appearance Tuesday at the Strand-Capitol Performing Arts Center in York.

Maybe, it will be the subject of his next essay or short story.


Advertisement

Or, he could write about his near run-ins with the Transportation Security Administration during his travels.

"They randomly choose you to get a full pat down (and) expect you to be cheerful about it," Sedaris said.

He vividly recounted a scene he witnessed of a TSA agent frisking a biker - potbelly, butt crack and all.

Or, Sedaris could write about his swimming experiences. Five years ago, he quit smoking and took up swimming. (Very Don Draper of him.) He doesn't drive, so when he's in a new city, he likes to stay downtown and use the YMCA lap pool.

"I went to one last year; it was carbonated," he said. At other pools, he's found empty lanes and ambivalent teenage lifeguards.

In France, where Sedaris lived for more than a dozen years, things are different. People stray from traditional lap patterns. And then, the "swans" entered. Sedaris said these creatures were women who swam sidestroke side-by-side so they could talk.

"You know someone isn't a serious swimmer when they don't take off their glasses," he said.

Sedaris moved to France in 1998. His boyfriend, Hugh, had a summerhouse. They only planned to stay a year.

"They treat you like a tourist," he said. "Technically, you're human. But you don't really count. (It's a) challenge to make a name for yourself in a country that's not yours."

But part of Sedaris liked being an outcast. As a gay teen growing up in 1970s North Carolina, he had plenty of experience as a misfit. He's channeled his awkward childhood and experiences as an American abroad into rich writing material.

Sedaris recently moved to England, where he feels like he fits in a little better. He started working with the BBC and U.K. newspapers. He's been invited to appear in documentaries and attend writers' groups. He likes being accepted as much as he liked being an outcast.

These days, he has to weed whimsical French and British phrases out of his writing to stay true to his voice - something he began crafting at 20, when he started keeping a diary. In 30 years, he's only missed a handful of days. Some entries are long. Most are short.

"It's not like anything big happens to me," he said. "I don't go through early diaries too often. The writing was just awful. I yell at myself. It was like poetry written by someone who has never read poetry."

But when he does traverse his literary memory lane, he might find a note that his mom called. At the time, it was routine, but since she passed away in 1991, Sedaris wishes he had chronicled their conversations.

"Maybe it's the way people feel about photographs," he added. They only wish they had taken one when it's too late.

When he gets sentimental, he wishes he had started his diary in first grade. Being in a large, wacky family shaped Sedaris as a writer and paranoid person. ("You would never not lock the bathroom door," he said, even when home alone.)

He knew his siblings would have found - and read - his diary. He knows this because he once found - and read - his sister Lisa's poetry.

"I never told her about it," he said. "It was hidden. That told me everything I needed to know about it. She was unsure of it."

As an author, Sedaris often shares personal stories. But when they're printed, he coaxes himself into believing that no one will read them. That, of course, is far from true. Millions of people chuckle at his biting wit and brutal honesty.

Modest isn't a word that comes to mind to describe Sedaris' writing. But it does describe the writer.

"I would die if anyone read it," he said of his diary. "I said to Hugh, 'If I die, you can read it. There is nothing in there I haven't said to your face at one point or another.'"

It took Sedaris eight years to share anything he wrote. He had been a writer parading as an artist. Then, at 27, he enrolled in a creative writing course and gleaned everything he could from his professor. Seven books later, Sedaris still has plenty to share.

Before the interview, Sedaris said he had started a story and was trying to figure out how to end it. His publishers wanted him to try to get a book out in January. He said he'll probably need more time. He had to finish four new short stories he'll bring with him on tour.

"I write a lot of things that just don't work," he said. "They're OK."

On tour, he often rereads and rewrites his material late at night in his hotel room.

That's after the lines and the books and the autographs and the inevitable question: "How do I get published?"

"I don't have any idea how to do that stuff," Sedaris said. "I was really lucky (that) Ira Glass heard me and put me on the radio."

That gig led to his 1992 literary career-launching stint on National Public Radio. It just happened. Sedaris has no advice to share; it's still a curiosity to him.

In many ways, he's still that guy. Standing in line. Waiting for the chance to ask a question or share an observation. To give someone pause. To make someone smile.

- Erin McCracken,
FlipSide staff

If You Go

David Sedaris will read some of his work, talk to audience members and sign books Tuesday at the Strand-Capitol Performing Arts Center, 50 N. George St., York.

The event, which starts at 7:30 p.m., will benefit the York chapter of Responsible Ovarian Awareness Required (R.O.A.R.).

Tickets cost $30, $35 and $40. For details and tickets, call 846-1111 or visit www.strandcapitol.org.

Related

Ticket sales from show help cancer local group.

David Sedaris on writing: 'Write every day ... with a pen that's shaped like a candy cane.'