Sedaris, David 1957–
Sedaris, David 1957–
(The Talent Family, a joint pseudonym)
PERSONAL: Surname pronounced "seh-dar-iss;" born 1957, in Raleigh, NC; son of Lou and Sharon Sedaris; partner of Hugh Hamrick (a painter). Education: Attended Kent State University; School of the Art Institute of Chicago, attained degree in 1987.
ADDRESSES: Home—Kensington, London, England. Agent—Steven Barclay, 321 Pleasant St., Petaluma, CA 94952.
CAREER: Diarist, radio commentator, essayist, and short story writer. Has taught writing at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL; appeared on Milly's Orchid Show, Chicago; appeared on The Wild Room, WBEZ radio, Chicago; appeared on This America Life, National Public Radio; has held numerous part-time jobs, including employment as a performance artist, a moving company worker, an office worker, an elf in SantaLand at Macy's department store, a housepainter, an apple-picker, and an apartment cleaner; volunteered with English Language Library for the Blind in Paris, France, and Age Concern in London, England.
AWARDS, HONORS: Obie Award, Village Voice, 1995, for One Woman Shoe; Humorist of the Year, Time magazine, 2001; Thurber Prize for American Humor; Grammy Award nomination for Best Spoken Word Album, 2005, for Dress Your Family in Corduroy & Denim; Grammy Award nomination for Best Comedy Album, 2005, for David Sedaris: Live at Carnegie Hall.
Origins of the Underclass, and Other Stories, Amethyst Press (Washington, DC), 1992.
Barrel Fever, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1994.
Naked, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1997.
Holidays on Ice, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1997.
Me Talk Pretty One Day, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 2000.
Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 2004.
Jamboree, produced at Theatre for the New City (New York, NY), 1991.
Stump the Host, produced at La MaMa ETC (New York, NY), March, 1993.
(With sister, Amy Sedaris, as The Talent Family) One Woman Shoe, produced at La MaMa ETC (New York, NY), 1995.
(With Joe Mantello) The SantaLand Diaries, produced off-Broadway, November, 1996, published as SantaLand Diaries and Seasons Greetings: Two Plays, Dramatists Play Service (New York, NY), 1998.
(With Amy Sedaris, as The Talent Family) Little Freida Mysteries, produced at La MaMa ETC (New York, NY), February, 1997.
(With Amy Sedaris, as The Talent Family) Incident at Cobbler's Knob, produced at the Fiorello H. La-Guardia High School of Music and Art (New York, NY), 1997.
(With Amy Sedaris, as The Talent Family) The Book of Liz, (produced at Greenwich House Theater, New York, 2001), Dramatists Play Service (New York, NY), 2002.
Also, with Amy Sedaris, author of the play Stitches; author of three plays produced in Chicago, IL, prior to 1991.
Barrel Fever and Other Stories, Time Warner Audio, 2001.
(With Amy Sedaris and Ann Magnuson) The David Sedaris Box Set, Time Warner Audio, 2002.
David Sedaris Live at Carnegie Hall, Time Warner Audio, 2003.
(Editor and author of introduction) Children Playing before a Statue of Hercules, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2005.
Also author of commentaries for This American Life and other National Public Radio programs, 1992–. This American Life commentaries included in collections, including This American Life: Lies, Sissies, and Fiascos, Rhino Records, 1999; Crime-busters and Crossed Wires: Stories from This American Life, Sony, 2003; and Committed: Men Tell Stories of Love, Commitment and Marriage, Bloomsbury, 2005. Contributor to periodicals, including Esquire.
ADAPTATIONS: "Diary of a Smoker," an essay from Barrel Fever, was adapted by Matthew Modine into a thirteen-minute film shown at the Sundance Film Festival and on the Public Broadcasting System (PBS), 1994. Audiobook versions of Naked and Holidays on Ice were released by Time Warner Audio Books in 1997; an audiobook version of Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim was released by Time Warner Audiobooks in 2004.
SIDELIGHTS: "Thank God for the maladjusted lives of Lou and Sharon Sedaris," Hannah Sampson wrote in the Miami Herald. "Their home may have been frenzied and their six children destined for therapy, but they gave us the shrewd and unconventional David Sedaris, who has created a successful career of telling hilarious, heartbreaking stories about his dysfunctional family." Sedaris has published several books of essays about his life, including the New York Times best-sellers Me Talk Pretty One Day and Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim. Also, in collaboration with his sister Amy Sedaris (best known for her appearances on the cable show Strangers with Candy), Sedaris has written several satiric plays, including the Obie Award-winning One Woman Shoe. "No one puts the fun into function quite like Sedaris," Kim Harwell wrote in the Dallas Morning News.
Sedaris grew up in North Carolina and moved to Chicago while in his twenties, where he attended school and performed readings from his diaries for audiences. In the audience at one reading was Ira Glass, of the National Public Radio (NPR) programs The Wild Room and This American Life. After Sedaris moved to New York in 1991, Glass called and asked him if he had any holiday-themed essays for a program Glass was putting together. Sedaris did—"SantaLand Diaries"—and this piece launched his career. Sedaris began reading excerpts from his diaries on the air, where his "nicely nerdy, quavering voice," in the words of Newsweek commentator Jeff Giles, delivered monologues praised for their acerbic wit and dead-pan delivery. Commenting about Sedaris's early commentaries in the New York Times, John Marchese wrote: "Sedaris has shown remarkable skill as a mimic and the ability to mix the sweet and the bitter: to be naive and vulnerable and at the same time, jaded and wickedly funny." Because of these radio pieces, Sampson continued, Sedaris has "become the closest thing public radio has to Elvis, so popular that his appearances at concert halls sell out."
Sedaris's comic, and often satirical, monologues draw primarily on his experiences in the odd day-jobs that he held before his work with NPR heated up his artistic career. Of his long-standing position as an apartment cleaner, Sedaris told Marchese in the New York Times: "I can only write when it's dark, so basically, my whole day is spent waiting for it to get dark. Cleaning apartments gives me something to do when I get up. Otherwise, I'd feel like a bum." As a result of his appearances on NPR, Sedaris has received numerous job offers, both for cleaning and for writing—as well as a two-book contract with Little, Brown, who in 1994, published Barrel Fever, a collection of Sedaris's essays and short stories.
Barrel Fever includes several pieces that brought Se-daris to national attention when he read them on the radio, including "Diary of a Smoker," in which the author declares that the efforts of nonsmokers to extend his life by not allowing him to smoke in front of them only gives him more time to hate nonsmokers, and "Santa-Land Diaries," in which the author chronicles his amorous and aggravating experiences playing one of Santa's elves at Macy's one Christmas. Critics remarked on the humorously exaggerated self-delusion of Sedaris's narrators in the short stories, including a man who brags on talk-shows about his affairs with such stars as rock singer Bruce Springsteen and boxer Mike Tyson, and a gay man with a persecution complex who "bemoans his suffering at the hands of society in a style so over-the-top as to be laughable," according to a critic in Kirkus Reviews.
Critical response to Barrel Fever was generally positive, with reviewers appreciating Sedaris's humorous yet accurate portrayal of such American foibles as the commercialism of Christmas and the self-righteousness of health fanatics. "Without slapping the reader in the face with a political diatribe," wrote a critic for Kirkus Reviews, "the author skewers our ridiculous fascination with other people's tedious everyday lives." A contributor to Publishers Weekly commented: "Sedaris ekes humor from the blackest of scenarios, peppering his narrative with memorable turns of phrase and repeatedly surprising with his double-edged wit." And although Newsweek critic Giles found some of Sedaris's commentary relatively shallow, he nonetheless concluded: "This is a writer who's cleaned our toilets and will never look at us the same way."
Sedaris's second collection of essays, Naked, appeared in 1997. These essays, according to a reviewer for Publishers Weekly, reveal that "Sedaris can hardly be called a humorist in the ordinary sense…. Sedaris is instead an essayist who happens to be very funny." In his characteristic deadpan style, Sedaris tells stories "about nutty or bizarre experiences, like volunteering at a hospital for the insane," Craig Seligman observed in the New York Times Book Review. Other essays include Sedaris on hitchhiking, working in Oregon, his personal battle with his childhood nervous disorders, and the title piece, about his sojourn at a nudist colony. But, for Seligman, "the funniest [essays], and ultimately the saddest, have to do with the writer's family." In these autobiographical tales, wrote Margot Mifflin in Entertainment Weekly, "Sedaris covers an impressive emotional range … from the comically corrosive title piece … to 'Ashes,' his account of his mother's death from cancer—a direct, unsentimental hit to the heart." As Ira Glass told Peter Ames Carlin in a People profile, "People come to his work because he's funny…. But there's a complicated moral vision there."
In Me Talk Pretty One Day, Sedaris tells more stories of his family, but also writes several essays about living in Paris with his partner, painter Hugh Hamrick. (Sedaris moved to Paris after becoming too recognizable in the United States. "It's harder to spy on people when someone is shouting 'Loved you on Letterman!,'" he told Entertainment Weekly reviewer Nancy Miller. Then, after he started to become famous in Paris as well, Sedaris moved on to London.) "Although amusing, Sedaris' tales of life in France now that he's happy don't have the bite of those in the first half of the book, many of them dealing with his eccentric father, an IBM engineer who ruins miniature golf with dissertations on wind trajectory," argued Nancy Pate in Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service. Lisa Schwarzbaum concluded in Entertainment Weekly: "These days Sedaris glitters as one of the wittiest writers around, an essayist and radio commentator who only appears to be telling simple then-what-happened anecdotes."
The trend towards a softer side in Sedaris's stories continued in Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, many critics thought. "You get the sense that Sedaris is thinking, 'This is one screwed-up family, but it's my screwed-up family,'" commented Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service contributor David Tarrant. His late mother particularly benefits from Sedaris's new-found sympathetic side; in Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim she "emerges as one of the most poignant and original female characters in contemporary literature," declared a Publishers Weekly contributor. As Jason Rowan commented in Lambda Book Report, "It's moving to revisit their prickly relationship from a softer and more compassionate place." The fact that Sedaris "can see the ridiculousness in his family's misadventures, yet relate them with tenderness," Marta Salij wrote in the Detroit Free Press, makes Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim "an even richer pleasure than Sedaris' earlier books."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Advocate, February 25, 1992, Sarah Schulman, review of Origins of the Underclass, and Other Stories, pp. 82-84; December 10, 1996, Robert L. Pela, review of The SantaLand Diaries, p. 54; March 18, 1997, Robert L. Pela, review of Naked, pp. 76-77; June 20, 2000, Robert L. Pela, review of Me Talk Pretty One Day, p. 133.
American Theatre, July-August, 1993, Michael Broder, "David Sedaris: Welcome to the Talent Family," pp. 48-50.
Back Stage, June 23, 1995, David Sheward, review of One Woman Shoe, p. 29; November 29, 1996, Eric Grode, review of The SantaLand Diaries, p. 28; February 28, 1997, Robert Simonson, review of The Little Frieda Mysteries, p. 60; July 18, 1997, Robert Simonson, review of Incident at Cobbler's Knob, p. 40.
Berkshire Eagle (Berkshire County, MA), April 24, 1998, Seth Rogovoy, "David Sedaris: Just a Writer."
Book, September, 2000, Rochelle O'Gorman, review of Me Talk Pretty One Day, p. 85; March-April, 2003, review of The David Sedaris Box Set, p. 78, interview with Sedaris, p. 78.
Booklist, June 1, 1994, Benjamin Segedin, review of Barrel Fever, p. 1762; February 15, 1997, Donna Seaman, review of Naked, p. 996; May 1, 2004, Donna Seaman, review of Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, p. 1482; May 1, 2005, Donna Seaman, review of Children Playing before a Statue of Hercules, p. 1568.
Chicago Tribune, February 2, 1996, sec. 7, p. 2.
Commonweal, June 15, 2001, Francis DeBernardo, review of Me Talk Pretty One Day, p. 24.
Dallas Morning News, June 29, 2004, Kim Harwell, "What We Like: David Sedaris."
Detroit Free Press, June 23, 2004, Marta Salij, review of Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim.
Entertainment Weekly, July 29, 1994, Margot Mifflin, review of Barrel Fever, p. 55; December 13, 1996, Kip Cheng, "Elf Awareness" (interview with Sedaris), p. S10; March 21, 1997, Margot Mifflin, review of Naked, p. 68; May 10, 2002, review of Holidays on Ice, p. 74; June 2, 2000, Lisa Schwarzbaum, review of Me Talk Pretty One Day, p. 72; January 23, 2004, review of Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, p. 68; June 4, 2004, Augusten Burroughs, review of Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, p. 84; June 11, 2004, Nancy Miller, "Where in the World Is David Sedaris? He Just Fled Paris for London, but America's Most Wanted Humorist Can't Outrun Success," p. 73.
Esquire, June, 2000, Ira Glass, review of Me Talk Pretty One Day, p. 38.
Fortune, June 12, 2000, review of Me Talk Pretty One Day, p. 358.
Gay and Lesbian Review, January, 2001, Lewis Whittington, review of Me Talk Pretty One Day, p. 46.
Independent (London, England), February 9, 2001, Steve Jelbert, "How to Take the World By Charm" (interview with Sedaris), section S, page 9.
Kirkus Reviews, April 1, 1994, p. 430; April 15, 2004, review of Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, p. 384.
Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service, June 20, 2001, Nancy Pate, review of Me Talk Pretty One Day, p. K6846; July 18, 2001, Robert K. Elder, "Cult Writer David Sedaris Finds Mainstream Success with Acerbic Tales of the Absurd," p. K2674; August 5, 2004, David Tarrant, review of Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, p. K3038.
Lambda Book Report, September, 1997, David Tedhams, review of Naked, pp. 37-38; May, 2004, Jason Rowan, review of Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, p. 8.
Library Journal, May 1, 1994, Thomas Wiener, review of Barrel Fever, p. 104; April 1, 1997, Mary Paumier, review of Naked, p. 93; July, 1997, Dana C. Bell-Russel, review of Naked (audiobook), p. 143; May 15, 2000, A.J. Anderson, review of Me Talk Pretty One Day, p. 95; October 15, 2000, Gloria Maxwell, review of Me Talk Pretty One Day (audiobook), p. 124; June 15, 2004, Robin Imhof, review of Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, p. 72.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, October 16, 1994, p. 6; July 2, 1995, p. 11.
Miami Herald, June 13, 2004, Hannah Sampson, review of Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim.
Nation, September 8, 1997, Laurie Stone, review of Incident at Cobbler's Knob, pp. 32-33.
Newsweek, August 15, 1994, Jeff Giles, review of Barrel Fever, pp. 66-67.
New York Times, February 19, 1997, p. C14; March 2, 2001, Jesse McKinley, review of The Book of Liz, section B, page 2, section E, page 2; March 28, 2001, Ben Brantley, review of The Book of Liz, section B, page 1, section E, page 1.
New York Times Book Review, July 4, 1993, p. 5; March 16, 1997, p. 10; June 16, 2000, Michiko Kakutani, review of Me Talk Pretty One Day; June 20, 2004, Stephen Metcalf, review of Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, p. 7.
Orlando Sentinel, June 28, 2000, Nancy Pate, review of Me Talk Pretty One Day.
O, The Oprah Magazine, June, 2004, Lisa Kogan, review of Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, p. 148.
People, March 24, 1997, Paula Chin, review of Naked, pp. 35-37; October 20, 1997, Peter Ames Carlin, "Elf-Made Writer: Former Santa's Helper David Sedaris Turns His Odd Life into Literature," p. 129; June 26, 2000, review of Me Talk Pretty One Day, p. 20; June 7, 2004, Sean Daly, review of Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, p. 50.
Publishers Weekly, April 25, 1994, review of Barrel Fever, p. 58; January 27, 1997, review of Naked, p. 88; April 7, 1997, p. 22; May 5, 1997, review of Naked (audiobook), pp. 40-41; November 24, 1997, review of Holidays on Ice, p. 55; May 8, 2000, review of Me Talk Pretty One Day, p. 212; June 19, 2000, Kathie Bergquist, interview with Sedaris, p. 54; August 7, 2000, review of Me Talk Pretty One Day (audiobook), p. 42; October 6, 2003, Shannon Maughan, "Him Talk Pretty on Audiobooks" (interview with Sedaris), pp. 26-27; December 1, review of David Sedaris Live at Carnegie Hall, p. 21; May 24, 2004, review of Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, p. 56; June 14, Daisy Maryles, "Sedaris Scores," p. 24; July 5, 2004, review of Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim (audiobook), p. 18; June 6, 2005, review of Children Playing before a Statue of Hercules, p. 60.
Sarasota Herald Tribune, December 14, 2001, Jay Han-delman, review of SantaLand Diaries, p. 28.
South Florida Sun-Sentinel, August 11, 2004, Oline H. Cogdill, review of The David Sedaris Box Set.
Time, June 19, 2000, interview with Sedaris, p. 139; July 2, 2001, Belinda Luscombe, "That's Signing, Not Singing," p. 79; September 17, 2001, Walter Kirn, "Wry Slicer: Neurotic, Self-Absorbed and Laugh-Out-Loud Funny, David Sedaris Takes Readers on a Wild Ride Through His Improbable Life," p. 86; June 21, 2004, Josh Tyrangiel, "Ten Questions for David Sedaris," p. 8.
Variety, November 11, 1996, Greg Evans, review of The SantaLand Diaries, p. 66; April 2, 2001, Charles Isherwood, review of The Book of Liz, p. 30.
Wall Street Journal, June 2, 2000, Robert J. Hughes, review of Me Talk Pretty One Day, p. W10.
Washington Post, March 22, 1997, p. B1.
Whole Earth Review, winter, 1995, Allison Levin, review of Barrel Fever, p. 63.
January Magazine, http://www.januarymagazine.com/ (August 12, 2004), Linda Richards, "January Interview: David Sedaris."
Stephen Barclay Agency Web Site, http://www.barclayagency.com/ (August 12, 2004), "David Sedaris."