David Sedaris

David Sedaris

A man with headphones sits at a desk and leans towards a large microphone

Sedaris at WBUR, Boston, in 2008
Born David Raymond Sedaris
(1956-12-26) December 26, 1956
Binghamton, New York, U.S.
Nationality American
Alma mater Western Carolina University
School of the Art Institute of Chicago
Genre Essays
Partner Hugh Hamrick

David Raymond Sedaris (born December 26, 1956) is an American humorist, comedian, author, and radio contributor. He was publicly recognized in 1992 when National Public Radio broadcast his essay "SantaLand Diaries". He published his first collection of essays and short stories, Barrel Fever, in 1994. His next five essay collections, Naked (1997), Holidays on Ice (1997), Me Talk Pretty One Day (2000), Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim (2004), and When You Are Engulfed in Flames (2008), became New York Times Best Sellers.[1][2][3][4][5] In 2010, he released a collection of stories, Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary.[6][7][8] In 2013, Sedaris released his latest collection of essays, Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls.

Much of Sedaris' humor is ostensibly autobiographical and self-deprecating, and often concerns his family life, his middle-class upbringing in the suburbs of Raleigh, North Carolina, his Greek heritage, homosexuality, jobs, education, drug use, and obsessive behaviors, and his life in France, London, and the English South Downs.

Early life

Sedaris was born in Johnson City, New York,[9] the son of Sharon Elizabeth (née Leonard) and Louis Harry "Lou" Sedaris, an IBM engineer.[10][11][12] He grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina. His father is of Greek descent, while his mother is Anglo-American.[13] His mother was Protestant and his father is Greek Orthodox.[14] He was raised in his father's Greek Orthodox faith.[15][16]

Sedaris was raised in a suburb of Raleigh and is the second child of six. His siblings, from oldest to youngest, are Lisa, Gretchen, Amy,[17] Tiffany,[18] and Paul (The Rooster). Tiffany Sedaris died in May 2013.[19] In his teens and twenties, he dabbled in visual and performance art. He describes his lack of success in several of his essays. After graduating from Jesse O. Sanderson High School in Raleigh, Sedaris briefly attended Western Carolina University[20] before transferring to and dropping out of Kent State University in 1977. He moved to Chicago in 1983 and graduated from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1987. (He did not attend Princeton University, although he spoke fondly of doing so in "What I Learned", a comic baccalaureate address delivered at Princeton in June 2006.[21])


While working odd jobs across Raleigh, Chicago, and New York City, Sedaris was discovered in a Chicago club by radio host Ira Glass; Sedaris was reading a diary he had kept since 1977. Glass asked him to appear on his weekly local program, The Wild Room.[22] Sedaris said, "I owe everything to Ira ... My life just changed completely, like someone waved a magic wand."[23] Sedaris' success on The Wild Room led to his National Public Radio debut on December 23, 1992, when he read a radio essay on Morning Edition titled "SantaLand Diaries", which described his purported experiences as an elf at Macy's department store during Christmas in New York.

"SantaLand Diaries" was a success with listeners,[24] and made Sedaris what The New York Times called "a minor phenomenon".[22] He began recording a monthly segment for NPR based on his diary entries, edited and produced by Glass, and signed a two-book deal with Little, Brown and Company.[22] In 1993, Sedaris told The New York Times he was publishing his first book, a collection of stories and essays, and had 70 pages written of his second book, a novel "about a man who keeps a diary and whom Mr. Sedaris described as 'not me, but a lot like me'".[22]

Collections and mainstream success

In 1994, Sedaris published Barrel Fever, a collection of stories and essays. He became a frequent contributor when Ira Glass began a weekly hour-long PRI/Chicago Public Radio show, This American Life, in 1995. Sedaris began writing essays for Esquire and The New Yorker. In 1997, he published another collection of essays, Naked, which won the Randy Shilts Award for Gay Non-Fiction from Publishing Triangle in 1998.[25]

He wrote his next book, Me Talk Pretty One Day, mostly in France over seven months and published it in 2000 to "practically unanimous rave reviews".[26] For that book, Sedaris won the 2001 Thurber Prize for American Humor.[27]

In April 2001, Variety reported Sedaris had sold the Me Talk Pretty One Day film rights to director Wayne Wang, who was adapting four stories from the book for Columbia Pictures.[17][28] Wang had completed the script and begun casting when Sedaris asked to "get out of it", after he and his sister worried how their family might be portrayed. He wrote about the conversation and its aftermath in the essay "Repeat After Me". Sedaris recounted that Wang was "a real prince ... I didn't want him to be mad at me, but he was so grown up about it. I never saw how it could be turned into a movie anyway."[29]

In 2004, Sedaris published Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, which reached number 1 on The New York Times Nonfiction Best Seller List on June 20, 2004.[4] The audiobook of Dress Your Family, read by Sedaris, was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album; the same year, Sedaris was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Comedy Album for his recording Live at Carnegie Hall. In March 2006, Ira Glass said that Sedaris' next book would be a collection of animal fables;[30] that year, Sedaris included several animal fables in his US book tour, and three of his fables were broadcast on This American Life.[31][32][33]

In September 2007, a new Sedaris collection was announced for publication on June 3, 2008.[7] The collection's working title was All the Beauty You Will Ever Need, but Sedaris retitled it Indefinite Leave to Remain and finally settled on the title When You Are Engulfed in Flames.[6][34] Although at least one news source assumed the book would be fables,[7] Sedaris said in October 2007 that the collection might include a "surprisingly brief story about [his] decision to quit smoking ... along with stories about a Polish crybaby, throwing shit in a paraplegic's yard, chimpanzees at a typing school, and people visiting [him] in France."[6]

In December 2008, Sedaris received an honorary doctorate from Binghamton University.[35]

In April 2010, BBC Radio 4 aired Meet David Sedaris, a four-part series of essays which Sedaris read before a live audience.[36] A second series of 6 programmes began airing on BBC Radio 4 Extra on June 13, 2011, with third series beginning on September 30, 2012.[37] As of 2016 five series have aired.

Sedaris released Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary, a collection of fables "detailing animals in strange adult situations", on September 28, 2010.[6][7][8]

In July 2011, Sedaris' essay, "Chicken Toenails, Anyone?", published in The Guardian,[38] garnered some criticism over concerns that it was insensitive towards China and Chinese culture.[39][40]

A frequent guest of late-night US talk show host Craig Ferguson, in April 2012, Sedaris joined Ferguson and the cast of CBS's The Late, Late Show in Scotland for a theme week in and around Ferguson's hometown between Glasgow and Edinburgh. The five weeknight episodes aired in May 2012, during the high-profile rating sweeps.

On April 23, 2013, Sedaris' ninth book, Let's Explore Diabetes With Owls, was released.

In 2014, he participated in Do I Sound Gay?, a documentary film by David Thorpe about stereotypes of gay men's speech patterns.[41]

He appeared along with his sister Amy as special guest judges on season 8 episode 8 of RuPaul's Drag Race.[42]

Veracity of nonfiction work

In 2007, in an article in The New Republic, Alexander S. Heard stated that much of Sedaris' work is insufficiently factual to justify being marketed as nonfiction.[43] Several published responses to Heard's article argued that Sedaris' readers are aware that his descriptions and stories are intentionally exaggerated and manipulated to maximize comic effect,[44] while others used the controversy as a springboard for discussing the liberties publishers are willing to take when calling books 'nonfiction'.[45]

Subsequently, in the wake of a controversy involving Mike Daisey's dramatizing and embellishing his personal experiences at Chinese factories, during an excerpt from his theatrical monologue for This American Life, new attention has been paid to the veracity of Sedaris' nonfiction stories. NPR will label stories from Sedaris, such as "SantaLand Diaries", as fiction, while This American Life will fact check stories to the extent that memories and long-ago conversations can be checked.[46] The New Yorker already subjects nonfiction stories written for that magazine to its comprehensive fact-checking policy.[47]

The Talent Family

Sedaris is also a playwright, having written with his sister, actress Amy Sedaris, several plays under the name "The Talent Family". These include Stump the Host (1993), Stitches (1994), and The Little Frieda Mysteries (1997). All were produced and presented by Meryl Vladimer when she was the artistic director of "the CLUB" at La MaMa, E.T.C., and The Book of Liz (2002) was produced by Ania A. Shapiro.

Sedaris also co-authored Incident at Cobbler's Knob, presented and produced by David Rockwell at the Lincoln Center Festival. Sets for those performances were designed by Sedaris' longtime boyfriend, Hugh Hamrick, who also directed two of them, The Book of Liz and Incident at Cobbler's Knob.

Sedaris and his sister Amy shared "The Talent Family" credit on the latter's short-lived sketch comedy show Exit 57, while David was a contributing writer.

The New Yorker

Sedaris has contributed over 40 essays to The New Yorker magazine and blog.[48]

Personal life

Sedaris currently lives in the Horsham District of West Sussex, England, with his boyfriend Hugh Hamrick, whom Sedaris mentions in a number of his stories.[49] Sedaris describes them as the "sort of couple who wouldn't get married".[50][51] He enjoys collecting litter in the local area, where he is known as "Pig Pen", and has a garbage truck named after him.[52][53]


This list is incomplete; you can help by expanding it.

Story and essay collections


Audio recordings


  1. "Best Sellers: April 6, 1997", The New York Times, April 6, 1997. Retrieved October 7, 2007.
  2. "Paperback Best Sellers: December 22, 2002", The New York Times, December 22, 2002. Retrieved October 7, 2007.
  3. "Best Sellers: June 11, 2000", The New York Times, June 11, 2000. Retrieved October 7, 2007.
  4. 1 2 "Best Sellers: June 20, 2004", The New York Times, June 20, 2004. Retrieved October 7, 2007.
  5. "Best Sellers: July 6, 2008", The New York Times, July 6, 2008. Retrieved July 1, 2008.
  6. 1 2 3 4 Hambrick, Greg. "David Sedaris is Taking Notes", Charleston City Paper, October 3, 2007. Retrieved October 7, 2007.
  7. 1 2 3 4 Isaac, Mike. "David Sedaris announces new book release", Paste, September 20, 2007. Retrieved January 8, 2007.
  8. 1 2 Releases worth a bookmark. September 8, 2010. Retrieved August 9, 2010.
  9. PBS-Finding Your Roots Episode 9
  10. Sedaris, David (2006). "'Dix Hill', p. 90". Naked (1 ed.). London: Abacus.
  11. "TNR".
  12. "TNR".
  13. Stated on Finding Your Roots, PBS, November 18, 2014
  14. "Me Talk Pretty One Day: Books: David Sedaris". Amazon.com.
  15. http://www.amazon.com/Me-Talk-Pretty-One-Day/dp/0316776963
  16. http://www.amysedarisrocks.com/transletapr05.htm
  17. 1 2 Lafreniere, and Steve "Amy and David Sedaris", Index Magazine, 2001. Retrieved October 9, 2007.
  18. Moore, Jina (August 15, 2004). "Sister in a Glass House", The Boston Globe. Retrieved March 24, 2009.
  19. Sedaris, David (October 28, 2013). "Now We Are Five: A big family, at the beach", The New Yorker. Retrieved October 28, 2013.
  20. Video on YouTube
  21. Sedaris, David (June 26, 2006). "What I Learned". The New Yorker. Retrieved December 4, 2013.
  22. 1 2 3 4 Marchese, John. "He Does Radio And Windows", The New York Times, July 4, 1993. Retrieved October 7, 2007.
  23. St. John, Warren. "Turning Sour Grapes Into a Silk Purse", The New York Times, June 6, 2004. Retrieved October 7, 2007.
  24. "Sedaris and Crumpet the Elf: A Holiday Tradition", NPR.org. Retrieved October 8, 2007.
  25. "awards". The Publishing Triangle. Retrieved May 15, 2014.
  26. Richards, Linda. "David Sedaris", January Magazine, June 2000. Retrieved October 9, 2007.
  27. "Past Thurber Prize Winners". Thurber House. Retrieved May 15, 2014.
  28. Fleming, Michael. "'Wave' duo pilot cable; Wang's 'Pretty' deal", Variety, April 5, 2001. Retrieved October 7, 2007.
  29. Tyrangiel, Josh. "10 Questions For David Sedaris", Time, June 21, 2004. Retrieved October 7, 2007.
  30. Glass, Ira. Chicago Public Radio pledge drive, March 24, 2006.
  31. Sedaris, David (23 Dec 2005). "An Animal Farm Christmas". This American Life. Episode 305. WBEZ. Retrieved 2016-01-31.
  32. Sedaris, David (10 Feb 2006). "So A Squirrel And A Chipmunk Walk Into A Bar". This American Life. Episode 308. WBEZ. Retrieved 2016-01-31.
  33. Sedaris, David (24 Feb 2006). "Hello Kitty". This American Life. Episode 309. WBEZ. Retrieved 2016-01-31.
  34. Why Does David Sedaris Keep Changing the Title of His Book? The Man Himself Explains New York Observer. February 21, 2008. Retrieved October 17, 2008.
  35. "Binghamton University to hold second Fall commencement" (Press release). Binghamton University. December 8, 2008. Retrieved December 4, 2013.
  36. "Meet David Sedaris". Radio 4. BBC.
  37. "Meet David Sedaris". Radio 4 Extra. BBC.
  38. "David Sedaris: Chicken toenails, anyone?", The Guardian, July 15, 2011. Retrieved July 30, 2011.
  39. Yang, Jeff (July 29, 2011). "David Sedaris Talks Ugly About China", San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved July 30, 2011.
  40. O'Connell, Joe (July 23, 2011). "Your letters: Tell us what you think". The Guardian. London. Retrieved January 21, 2012.
  41. "'Do I Sound Gay?': Toronto Review". The Hollywood Reporter, September 8, 2014.
  42. "Drag Race's Book Ball showcases the strength of season 8". AV Club. 25 April 2016. Retrieved 26 April 2016.
  43. Heard, Alex. "This American Lie: A midget guitar teacher, a Macy's elf, and the truth about David Sedaris", The New Republic, March 19, 2007. Retrieved June 15, 20085.
  44. Balk, Alex. "David Sedaris May Sometimes Exaggerate For Effect!" Archived August 11, 2011, at the Wayback Machine., Gawker.com, March 14, 2007. Retrieved August 7, 2007.
  45. Villalon, Oscar. "Public's taste for nonfiction has publishers playing fast and loose with labels", San Francisco Chronicle, April 3, 2007. Retrieved August 7, 2007.
  46. Farhi, Paul (May 14, 2012). "Style". The Washington Post.
  47. Lyall, Sarah (June 8, 2008). "What You Read Is What He Is, Sort Of". The New York Times.
  48. "Contributors - David Sedaris". The New Yorker. Retrieved March 9, 2011.
  49. David Spera, Steven M. Birkland and Todd Hanlon Bright Ideas Design. "David Sedaris - Gay and Lesbian Travel". Passportmagazine.com. Archived from the original on October 19, 2013. Retrieved December 4, 2013.
  50. Schrobsdorff, Susanna (May 29, 2008). "David Sedaris on Writing, Reading and Gay Marriage - Newsweek and The Daily Beast". Newsweek.com. Retrieved September 12, 2015.
  51. "BBC Radio 4 - Ramblings, Series 23, David Sedaris". BBC. March 9, 2013. Retrieved December 4, 2013.
  52. "South Downs litter picker has truck named after him". West Sussex County Times. Horsham. July 28, 2014. Retrieved July 28, 2014.
  53. Tim Dowling (31 July 2014). "David Sedaris? Who? Oh, you mean the local litter-picker". Guardian newspapers. Retrieved 31 July 2014.
  54. Sedaris, David (November 29, 2004). "Reflections: Old Faithful". The New Yorker. Retrieved June 28, 2014.
  55. Sedaris, David (June 26, 2006). "Annals of Commencement: What I Learned". The New Yorker. Retrieved June 28, 2014.
  56. Sedaris, David (April 2, 2012). "Socialized Medicine in Old Europe". The New Yorker. Retrieved June 28, 2014.
  57. Liz McAvoy (October 6, 2010). "Author, humorist David Sedaris enlivens Landmark Theater". The Collegian. University of Richmond (Virginia). Retrieved May 15, 2014.
  58. David Sedaris (December 2, 2005). "David and Goliath". This American Life. WBEZ. Retrieved May 15, 2014.

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