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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Finalist: Greater Commons - Todd McLeod
Greater Commons, founded by Todd McLeod and Andrew Cull, is an organization that helps people live happier, more successful and fulfilling lives through agile learning. The current education system is inefficient and exclusionary, in which many students who end up earning a degree, if at all, enter a career not related to their field of study. Greater Commons solves this problem and gap in post-high school secondary education in a variety of ways. Passionately and diligently, Great Commons helps others obtain skills, knowledge, wisdom, motivation, and inspiration so that they may live better lives.
Finalist: PeerFoward - Keith Frome
PeerForward is an organization dedicated to increasing the education and career success rates of students in low-income schools and communities by mobilizing the power of positive peer influence. PeerForward works with partner schools to select influential students as a part of a team, systemizing the "peer effect." Research in the fields of sociology of schools, social-emotional learning, adult-youth partnerships, and civic education demonstrates that students can have a positive effect on the academic outcomes of their peers. PeerForward is unique through its systemic solutions to post-secondary education.
Finalist: Cogniss - Leon Young
Cogniss combines technology and best practice knowledge to enable anyone to innovate and share solutions that advance lifelong learning. Cogniss is the only platform to integrate neuroscience, through which it solves the problem of access by providing a low-code platform that enables both developers and non-developers to build sophisticated education apps fast, and at a much lower cost. It addresses the uneven quality of edtech solutions by embedding research-based learning design into its software. App creators can choose from a rich set of artificial intelligence, game, social and data analytics, and gamification to build their perfect customized solution.
Finalist: Practera - Nikki James
Practera's mission is to create a world where everyone can learn through experience. Today's workplaces are increasingly dynamic and diverse, however, costly and time-consuming experiential learning is not always able to offer the right opportunities at scale. Many students graduate without developing the essential skills for their chosen career. Practera's team of educators and technologists see this problem as an opportunity to transform the educational experience landscape, through a CPL pedagogical framework and opportunities to apply students' strengths through active feedback.
Thank you to our judges!
Our expert judges are Lorna Davis, Dan Rosensweig, and Stuart Yasgur.
Lorna Davis is the Senior Advisor to Danone CEO and is a Global Ambassador for the B Corp movement. Lorna has now joined B-Lab, the non-for-profit that supports the B Corporation movement on an assignment to support the journey of large multi nationals on the path to using business as a force of good.
Dan Rosensweig joined Chegg in 2010 with a vision for transforming the popular textbook rental service into a leading provider of digital learning services for high school and college students. As Chairman and CEO of Chegg, Dan commits the company to fulfilling its mission of putting students first and helping them save time, save money and get smarter.
Stuart Yasgur leads Ashoka's Social Financial Services globally. At Ashoka, Stuart works with others to initiate efforts that have mobilized more than $500 million in funding for social entrepreneurs, engaged the G20 through the Toronto, Seoul and Los Cabos summits and helped form partnerships with leading financial institutions and corporations.
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