Augusten Burroughs: Lives I'd Love To Live
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: If you could live someone else's life, whose would it be?
Augusten Burroughs: That's a trick question because you know what the answer is to that? Everyone's life is more interesting than mine. Everyone's life is, to them. It really is all relative. But of books, of memoirs. Okay. I'm fascinated with Edith Wharton then, "House of Mirth." What fascinated me by that book, even though it's not a memoir and I'm not quite answering your question, is that when you read it now, you can read it and you can say, "Oh you know, this is kind of like a nastier Sex in the City." In a way, or some other kind of urban book that I haven't read, but then you realize that this was written with ink and a piece of bird. The women had to write it in her head before putting it on paper. There was no laptop and it's a complex book. She would have been fascinating to know.
Mark Twain interests me. He would have been a very interesting person. Oh, okay. No. I can give you an answer. I have a better answer for you. The person that fascinates me in Emily Dickinson. I never cared about Emily Dickinson. I grew up in the same town, I walked past that house every day of my life, my mother loved Emily Dickinson. I was not interested at all and then like two years ago I picked up one of her -- the Collected Poems and I picked it up and I just started looking at it and really reading it. It was absolutely astonishing as I'm the last to know, but what I find most astonishing is that she didn't leave her room. She had a very, very deep sea of wisdom about so many features in life and yet with her mind alone, which is interesting when you think about it because don't they say you use ten percent of our brains. If that's the case, that makes us very unique in nature; we're the only wasteful thing. I think we probably do use 100 percent of our brains but we don't know what that other 90 percent does.
Emily Dickinson seemed to have been in touch somehow with a lot more than she was in touch with. So I just find her fascinating and I want that cookie recipe.
Recorded on November 3, 2009
Interviewed by Austin Allen
Something must have been in those cookies Emily Dickinson was baking, because she "seemed to have been in touch somehow with a lot more than she was in touch with."
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