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 writers inform your work?
Augusten Burroughs: I don’t know that there are any writers that really inform my work because I was writing-- I didn’t read a book until I was 24 and I have been writing for many, many years before that, and my writing really hasn’t changed all that much. I still write about me, which is what I did then, but there are certainly many writers I admire. When I started reading when I was 24 it was a revelation.
It was just the most perfect experience and I- once I started I couldn’t stop and I read as much and as constantly as I could the- with the exception that I didn’t read dead authors so no classics.
And the reason I wouldn’t read a dead author is because I would find an author whose work I just loved and I would read the next book and the next book and the next book and I always knew that next year there’ll be another book, but with the dead people, with the dead ones, once you finish their last book there wasn’t going to ever be another book. And the author who broke that pattern or that spell was Edith Wharton when I read The House of Mirth. The House of Mirth nearly killed me it was so brilliant and that opened up a whole new world for me. It expanded my horizons and it’s been a constant process.
I’m always reading--new authors that I’ve never read before and living and dead and all over the place, but there are tons of writers that I love. I love the writer Eudora Welty and I love Flannery O’Connor. I love Tillie Olsen. I love Carson McCullers. I love Elizabeth Berg. I love Anita Shreve. I love Haven Kimmel. There are so many writers that I just really admire. I read the things-- I don’t read a lot of memoirs. I don’t read memoirs. I don’t read essays. What I read-- I read fiction and I read science, books on cosmology, astrophysics, and particle theory, so the very tiny, tiny, tiny and then the very, very big. Those are my interests.
Question: Which writers are overrated?
Augusten Burroughs: I read Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea and I was just “What? What?” I-- So I just never got Hemingway. I guess I get the whole-- Yeah, he was macho and the swaggering and the choppy sentences but- and in the end he shoots himself in the head so it didn’t seem like a very happy guy. So I was never-- I never-- Hemingway is now a line of furniture, which is great, the Hemingway collection. Is that Ethan Allen maybe? And maybe that was his destiny all along, to become a coffee table.
Question: What was it like to see your book as a movie?
Augusten Burroughs: Well, it’s a surreal experience to see your memoir turned into a film. It’s a director and it’s the director’s script and his vision of your- of my memoir. It was exciting. It was-- The cast was absolutely astonishing and the performances were amazing and it was surreal and it never did quite feel real.
I didn’t spend much time on the set. I was there for I think a day, a day and a half, and I had to go to Australia to tour down there but I wouldn’t have been on the set anyway. I didn’t want to be the writer, the guy who lived it, sitting around eating M&M’s and judging everybody. I didn’t laugh like that. I didn’t sneeze that way. I would have said, “I’m sorry.” But it was a great experience. It was a wonderful experience and I made a couple of lasting friendships out of it and it was great.
Recorded on: April 30, 2008.