FRESH AIR: David Sedaris writes personal stories, funny tales about his life growing up in a Greek family outside of Raleigh, N.C., about in Santa’s workshop at Christmastime, and about living abroad with his longtime partner, Hugh. The stories have appeared on This American Life and in The New Yorker, and have now filled seven essay collections, including Me Talk Pretty One Day, Naked, Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, and now — his latest collection — Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls. Because Sedaris’ writing relies so heavily on his own life, it’s not surprising that many of his essays begin as entries in his journal, which he has been keeping obsessively since Sept. 4, 1977.
“That’s how I start the day — by writing about the day before,” he tells Fresh Air‘s Terry Gross, “but every now and then I read out loud from my diary. … I wouldn’t open it up and just read, but every now and then something happens and I think, ‘Oh, this might work in front of an audience, so I’m always hoping that something interesting will happen … but I don’t try to force it.” But most of his journal isn’t for public consumption. In fact, Sedaris says his public persona as a famous writer is quite different from the person he is — and has been — in private, and the journal is where those two versions of David Sedaris collide.
“There’s the you that you present to the world,” he says, “and then there’s, you know, of course the real one and, if you’re lucky, there’s not a huge difference between those two people. And I guess in my diary I’m not afraid to be boring. It’s not my job to entertain anyone in my diary.” While Sedaris says his partner, Hugh, sometimes wonders whether the impulse to write almost exclusively about one’s own life is a sign of narcissism, Sedaris understands his compulsion to journal and compose personal essays differently. “I mean, I think everybody thinks about themselves,” he says. “This seems to me like a part of the obsession with it is just as a writing exercise, really: I write in my diary, and that kind of warms me up, and then I move onto other things.” MORE