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: Do you worry that the Internet will kill long-form writing?
Augusten Burroughs: I don't worry about anything in the Internet age. I have been online since I was aware of it: 1985 in San Francisco with an Apple Macintosh and back then it was just a black screen and you typed and someone typed back. I loved it. I loved it. It has changed everything in my life. I would not want to even be alive in an era that did not have it because it is essential to our evolution as a species. It, to me, feels utterly inevitable. We have to have it because if you think about it, we've created a system where there's sort of a global caste system. What happens if you're the genius 9 year old girl living in a dirt poor unnamed country with nothing and there is not one eye trained on you and you don't even know enough to hope but you're a genius. One day someone drops from the clouds some peculiar little durable computer thing that you've never seen and you pick it up and you poke at it. You kind of figure it out. What you realize is that this little thing connects you but more than connecting you to other people in the world it masks you.
Now a lot of people can be afraid of the masking because people can misrepresent themselves and they can pose as people they're not. Well, yeah; that's true. That's one side of it. But the other side of it is that it equalizes you and if you happen to be a person who is not equal in the eyes of the greater society that's a damn good thing. Because now, guess what, you are. You are every bit as valid as the Stanford graduate. We have to have that not for politically correct reasons, I don't give a shit about that, but we have to have it because these people contain essential things. Essential things. In order for us to progress, we need brilliance and brilliance isn't fair and it's not polite and it's not -- we can't grow it. It happens. It happens. Genius happens and it doesn't always happen in a zip code where we can access it. Therefore, we kind of need not to keep tabs on everybody but we need to give them access to everybody else.
So I think that the Internet is our most profound and beautiful achievement. It is magnificent and it's just a baby. It's just a baby. I cannot wait until we can know things because we have the Internet as a layer of our thinking that doesn't control us, we control it, yet we don't have to be aware of it. It will be like a suit that really fits well.
Recorded on November 3, 2009
Interviewed by Austin Allen