David Sedaris on fame, death and picking up trash


David Sedaris's latest collection, Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls, debuted at the top of the New York Times bestseller lists in April, 2013. When he was on his book tour in the U.S. the following month, one of his sisters committed suicide.

In a recent interview with Day 6 host Brent Bambury, Sedaris talked candidly about his sister's death, telling family stories and being on the road. Listen here:

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After a long sojourn in France, the American author now lives in Sussex, England, and he enjoys being seen as an outsider. "I get very excited when people treat me poorly. That's something I can work with," he said, adding being treated well in a fancy hotel doesn't make for a good story. "In rural England, where we live right now, the roadsides are carpeted with rubbish... I'll spend anywhere from four to nine hours a day, cleaning up rubbish on the side of the road," he told Bambury. His current record is walking 25 ½ miles in one day to pick up trash. "People think that I'm mentally ill, the people out where we live, and it's so interesting how they treat me," he said. 

Legendary for his lengthy book signings, Sedaris spends many hours talking to people during his tours. Sedaris said his longest signing stretch was 10 1/2 hours, but his tours aren't a trial. They're his reward for all the solitary hours writing and collecting odd looks along with the garbage on his daily walks. "People come up all the time and say, 'Oh, [book signing] must be so exhausting,'" he said. "I'm sitting here listening as people who've been standing in line for hours telling me how much they love me. What do you think is hard about that?... It is my adolescent fantasy come true in an even larger and more grotesque way than I wished for."

Sedaris continued his book tour when he learned that his sister, Tiffany, had committed suicide. He didn't tell his audiences or the bookstore owners, because he felt that people wouldn't know what to say.

"The tour was set up, and people were waiting for me, and flights had been booked, so I just kept going... I don't know that anyone could tell that anything was off," said Sedaris. "I sort of prided myself on that, that I could put that mask on and continue."

Sedaris had been estranged from his sister for eight years and her will forbade any service. He had already planned a family reunion in North Carolina shortly after the tour, where the family had spent summer vacations.

He wrote about that holiday in his essay "Now We Are Five" published in The New Yorker last fall. 

Sedaris said his fans have been sending him letters with their stories of a family suicide, and he's shared those with his siblings. 

He finds comfort in this community of loss: "I think it's something that people don't talk about. So there's this whole population who have gone through this thing or have had it happen in their family, and they don't talk about it... That was it. I joined this community,"

Sedaris said he only tells stories he and his family can live with sharing: "I choose what to reveal about myself. You know, people will often say, 'Your family must be terrified, they have no secrets.' And in fact they have plenty. I don't reveal their secrets, and people don't know anything about my family that my family doesn't want them to know."

One of the people Sedaris tells stories about is his father, who is 91 and goes to spinning classes five days a week. Sedaris said he'll be very surprised when his father dies: "...by this point, I've been led to believe that he will live forever. He will live forever to say to me, 'Have you had your prostate checked, have you had your prostate checked, when are you going to get your prostate checked?'"

Bambury immediately asked Sedaris if he'd had his prostate checked, and the answer was yes, with a typical Sedaris spin: "I didn't even know where it was."