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.
Augusten Burroughs: Oprah doesn’t determine our taste in literature. What Oprah does is inspire many hundreds of thousands if not millions of people to read. Oprah does not tell every member of American society “You must read this book.” What Oprah does is say, “I love this book and you all should read it.” So people who like Oprah read the book and I think that’s amazing.
I love reading. There is nothing better than to hear from somebody you trust or like a recommendation, someone who takes the book and presses it into your hand and says, “Oh, this is the most beautiful book. You’ve got to read this book.” That’s a book I want to read then. And that’s what Oprah is doing. Oprah’s audience is huge and they’re very loyal and they trust her and they love her and when Oprah reads a book and feels passionate about it she goes on the air and she talks about it and says, “Read it,” and people do. I don’t think she is the arbiter of taste of America. I think that’s kind of a snarky, cynical way to look at what Oprah’s done. I think that anybody who gets people to read should be celebrated.
I think that every parent in America should send J.K. Rowling a check for a dollar every month as a thank-you for getting their kids to read. That is amazing. The Harry Potter-- Harry Potter was the first book my nephew read and it’s this thick. When I was a kid no kid was reading a book that thick and then waiting for the next that-thick version of it to come out. It’s amazing. It was a real profound impact on our culture that Harry Potter had with kids.
A whole generation of kids, thanks to J.K. Rowling, grew up loving to read and that’s kind of how I feel about Oprah’s Book Club. The more people who read the better because reading-- It’s not like watching TV, it’s not like being online watching videos, and it’s not like listening to music. It’s not better or worse; it’s just different. And it’s important that it not be forgotten. It’s a thrilling experience because you create the movie in your mind.
Recorded on: April 30, 2008.