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Greek-American David Sedaris Makes Readers Laugh, Cry

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Greek-American author David Sedaris is one of the most famous American humorists of our time. Credit: Heike Huslage Koch/Wikimedia Commons/ CC BY-SA 4.0

Greek-American author David Sedaris, who reflects on difficult moments in his life with honesty and humor, has become one of the most beloved contemporary American humorists.

Born in 1956 to an Anglo-American mother and Greek-American father, whose parents were immigrants from Apidea in the Peloponnese, Sedaris uses his Greek background and middle class life in the suburbs of Raleigh, North Carolina as inspiration for his writing.

He is also known for his self-deprecating style, focusing on his own anxiety and neuroticism, as well as his life as a gay man.

Although his mother was Protestant, Sedaris’ father was Greek Orthodox, and he and his five siblings were raised in the faith. The Greek-American author references his experiences growing up in a Greek household in a number of his works.

David Sedaris examines Greek-American family, sexuality

His family, which many have described as “dysfunctional,” plays a major role in his writing, particularly his father Lou. Lou is described as a complex father who often argued with his son.

In a tragic story, Lou kicked his son out of his house as a teenager because of his sexuality although the author didn’t realize the true reason until years later. Luckily, his father allowed him to return a few days later.

In an interview with the Montreal Gazette four years ago, the Greek-American author expressed his amazement at how much progress has been made for LGBT teens:

When I go on tour, I meet kids who come to my shows with their parents—the kids are 14 years old and they’re gay—and having that was unthinkable when I was growing up. That you could be yourself that early was unthinkable.

Despite the difficulties that came with being gay at the time, Sedaris says that being an “other” made him stronger:

To be “other” in any way, you really have to at an early age not live your life based on what other people think. I grew up with my dad saying, “You’re a failure, you’re a big zero and you’re not going to amount to anything.” And that’s just music to my ears! That just winds me up. I’m like a wind-up toy, you just set me on the ground and there I go. It’s not your belief in me that will motivate me—it’s your disbelief.

Sedaris’ siblings also play a major role in his writing, particularly his sister Amy Sedaris, who is a comedian and actor in her own right, and his sister Tiffany, who suffered from mental illness and tragically killed herself in 2013.

Many readers are stunned at Sedaris’ brutal honesty when recounting stories from his childhood. When asked by a reporter from Independent Ireland how Sedaris handles writing about friends and family, he responded:

If I write about my friend Pam, whose son is adopted, I will ask, “Is this OK? Is there anything you object to?” but other people I don’t worry about because it’s a flattering thing. Most people will say, “Look, I don’t want you to write about this,” and I think, “I’d never have written about this. It’s so f***ing boring.” They think I’m on pins and needles, dying to get it written down.

Greek-American author David Sedaris got his start on radio

The author, although very intelligent, was not a driven student in school. After graduating from high school, he briefly attended Western Carolina University and then transferred and dropped out of Kent State University in 1977.

In 1983, Sedaris moved to Chicago and graduated from the School of the Arts Institute of Chicago. After graduating in 1987, Sedaris moved back and forth from New York, Chicago, and Raleigh all the while writing and working odd jobs.

Sedaris’ career began in the early 1990s after radio host Ira Glass, now known for his program This American Life, discovered him in a comedy club in Chicago, where he was reading from a diary he had dutifully kept since 1977.

Glass offered Sedaris a spot on his weekly radio program called the Wild Room, an opportunity that eventually led to the author’s big break in 1992, when Sedaris read his essay entitled “The Santaland Diaries.”

In the true story, Sedaris narrates his experience working as a Christmas elf in Macy’s Department store in New York. Listeners instantly took to Sedaris’ honesty and humor, and he was offered a monthly segment on National Public Radio in which he recited excerpts from his diary. He was also offered a two-book deal with Little, Brown and Company.

In 1994, he published his first book, Barrel Fever, which is a collection of short stories and essays. He then began writing for The New Yorker and Esquire Magazine.

Just three years later, Sedaris released his book Naked, which is one of his most famous works of writing. Naked, along with his next four books, Holidays on Ice, Me Talk Pretty One Day, Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, and When You Are Engulfed in Flames, all became best-sellers.

Despite his success and fame, the humorist never expected to become a successful author, as he noted in the Montreal Gazette.

“I started writing when I was 20 and I was 35 when my first book was published…I never expected this,” he admitted. “I was not one of those people who wrote something and then went out to try to get it published. For the first seven years, nobody saw any of my writing at all because it was pretty awful.”

Sedaris has won numerous awards for his writing, including the Randy Shilts Award for Gay Non-Fiction and the Thurber Prize for American Fiction, and he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2019.

He lives in Rackham, West Sussex, England with Hugh Hamrick, his longtime partner. Hamrick is an artist and set designer, and the two have been together for thirty years. Sedaris is well-known in his village for donning a headlamp in the middle of the night to remove litter from the roads, a hobby that has spawned his nickname of “Pig Pen.” He even has the honor of having a waste vehicle named after him.

The author’s latest book, A Carnival of Snackery: Diaries 2003-2020, was released in 2021. He is known for releasing audiobooks which he narrates himself and enjoys touring and reading excerpts from the book aloud to live audiences.

When asked about his age, which Sedaris considers “old,” as expressed in his latest book, he said in Independent Ireland:

I find myself wagging on how sensitive audiences are, and then I worry, “That’s [sic] sounds old”…We’re not supposed to say the word “mother.” The term is “gestational parent.” Well, try finding something that rhymes with “gestational parent.” 

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