David Sedaris

(Excerpt from David Sedaris interview)

You began writing somewhat later in life. How old were you?

I started writing in a diary when I was 20-years-old, but I didn’t write a story until I was twenty-seven. I recently spoke to my first writing teacher about that story, and he said, “I remember that piece! That was such a great parody of Raymond Carver!”

You know, it wasn’t meant as a parody. I worked on that first story so hard that I just thought, Well, no one will be able to tell how heavily influenced I am by Raymond Carver. But if there had been a Raymond Carver­–parody contest, there’s no doubt I could have submitted this story.

Do you remember what it was about?

It was kind of based on my own life at the time. I had taken a road trip across the country with my boyfriend, and we stayed in a motel. That part of the story was true—the other part was made up. I wrote about my boyfriend visiting his parents, which didn’t happen.

This first writing teacher had suggested that I go to graduate school. But something inside me thought, No, it’s better that I just start writing. That’s sort of my job as a writer, isn’t it? Just to write?

Maybe it’s better that you never did earn an M.F.A.

Any kind of graduate school scared me. I wouldn’t have had the nerve to go to an Iowa Writers’ Workshop. I wouldn’t have had the confidence. Instead I went to art school [at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago], which was kind of perfect. You had to take a certain number of liberal-arts credits, and you had to take some English, and the teachers were very, very good. They had a lot to give. None of the other students wanted what they had to give, but I really wanted it—so it was like I had my own private tutors.

What exactly did you want?

By the time I got to art school, I was much more affected by the things that I read than by what I saw. If I were to go to a museum, I might look at a painting and think, god, I wish I owned that! Where would I put it in my apartment? What if I owned it and then sold it? I could take that money, and I could buy that painting over there. I wasn’t moved by the paintings in the artistic sense.

On the other hand, I also became a reader around this time, which is so important for a writer. If I read a story in The Atlantic, I would be in a daze afterward. It just meant so much to me. When I later taught writing at the Art Institute, I could very easily spot the students who never read. Their stories would be shit. I would point to their work and then to a published work. I’d ask, “Do you see a difference between these two things?” A lot of students couldn’t see the difference. For them, there was no hope…

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