Augusten Burroughs was born Christopher Richter Robison in Pittsburgh, PA on October 23, 1965 and raised in Western Massachusetts. Augusten's parents struggled with alcoholism and mental illness and they separated when he was twelve. Augusten stopped attending school and his parents' longtime psychiatrist became his legal guardian. At seventeen, he moved to the Boston area and graduated from Control Data Institute with a diploma in Computer Programming and System's Analysis and Design but never worked in the technology industry. Instead he moved to San Francisco and at 19 became the youngest copywriter in the city. His work attracted national acclaim and in 1989 he was invited by Ogilvy & Mather, New York, to work on their flagship American Express account. Augusten found great success in the Manhattan advertising community, eventually working for many of the top agencies where he created global ad campaigns for worldwide brands. Almost eighteen years after accepting his first advertising job, Augusten left the industry to pursue a career as an author. Two years later, his 2002 memoir, Running with Scissors, became a publishing phenomenon, spending over three consecutive years on the NYT bestseller list. It was made into a movie starring Annette Bening and Alec Baldwin. All of Augusten's subsequent books — Dry, Magical Thinking, Possible Side Effects, A Wolf at the Table, You Better Not Cry & This is How — were instant NYT bestsellers. In 2013, Augusten married his literary agent and best friend, Christopher Schelling, received a Lambda Literary Award, and was honored with a Doctorate of Letters from the Savannah College of Art and Design. Augusten is also a self-taught gemologist with a special interest in jade. He collects and sells vintage and estate jewelry, photographs people, and recently directed his first music video. Augusten and his husband Christopher live in a 200 year old house in rural Connecticut with their three dogs.
Question: What does Christmas mean to you?
Augusten Burroughs: Well Christmas has always been, as far back as I can remember, my favorite holiday. Actually, holidays don't mean anything to me except for Christmas. Now the thing is though that every Christmas that I can remember has been really cruddy. In fact, it has seemed to me that each Christmas is worse than the one before and sometimes that's my own doing. I'm the author of the ruin. But at other times it has seemed that Christmas itself hates me.
So the book is a compilation of not all but a few of these holidays and the thing that I have found is that no matter how nasty the Christmas was, there has always been usually in retrospect -- always been something perfect and small and shiny hidden within it. That has made me appreciate the holiday even more.
Question: When you think of being “home for the holidays,” what is home?
Augusten Burroughs: I don't have a sense of that. I suppose it is, for me, more of a state of mind. Well probably in front of my laptop computer, actually. Wherever that is. I don't have home as a place in the chest that many people have. Home is like a -- how many ribs do we have? What? 15? 12? It's the extra rib. Home is the -- for people it's like a hammock. But I've actually never had that; I have tried to create that as a structure, which is actually the last story in this book. That structure flooded. So for me it's really more of about being where I want to be with people I care about.
Question: For memoirists, is the past a gift that keeps on giving?
Augusten Burroughs: Well it depends, I suppose, on who you ask and how you define gift. From my perspective, I could continue to write memoirs probably for many, many, many years. I don't want to say the rest of my life, but many years. However, I could never do that because it's just not interesting to me, at a certain point. But certainly the material is there.
What I have found is yes I've definitely had some unusual circumstances in my life, but I've also just paid attention. I pay attention to what happens to me and -- but I pay a lot of very close attention. I fixate, I focus, and I'm a visual thinker; I don't -- and a lot of people are visual thinkers and analog. They kind of flop back and forth but I'm only visual, only. Like if you had a shopping list, for a split second I'm going to see the hieroglyphics that are there. When I am writing anything, a memoir or a novel or whatever, I'm translating these images. So there is -- I suppose there is a limit to how much time I want to look at myself, at the past self. I'll always write about what's going on in my life and the reason for that is it's not actually because I'm so fascinated with myself, it's because I can't think. I can't think like have thoughts in my head like juggling them up there and think them through and come to a conclusion. It's like math for me; I can't do that. I have to sort of storyboard my circumstances at any given moment in order to see them and appreciate them. By appreciate them, that's probably the wrong word. In order to understand them.
So I'll always write because now at this point I'm kind of trained to think that way but I like many other things, many other topics.
Recorded on November 3, 2009
Interviewed by Austin Allen