An Interview with Augusten Burroughs

Lina Shustarovich

SB: I’ve read that none of your talks are scripted, nor do you read from your own work when speaking at universities. What is your reason for this and what is your opinion on speakers whose words are fine-tuned by teams of speechwriters? How much honesty is lost in construction? What does this mean for second drafts? 

AB: Actually, I have read to audiences on a few occasions, but only brief sections and only for some specific purpose. But it's true that I never have any sort of script or even idea of what I'll say until I get up on stage. And even then, I frequently surprise myself. Like, just before they call my name, I might decide, "OK, the first thing I'll say is ____," and then I get on stage and something totally unexpected comes out of my mouth. And the reason why is part laziness; I just can't make myself write one great, polished thing I could perform over and over again. It would be so easy if I could. But I couldn't. So maybe it was laziness to begin with, but when I actually thought about it for two seconds, the idea of standing in front of people and feeding them canned food from my head just turns my stomach. Also, I would be bored out of my mind if I knew what was going to happen next. I've always been best under pressure or without a net. 

 

SB: You’ve lived in New York long enough to officially be called a New Yorker. What are your favorite things about living in the city? How does the art/literature scene compare to the one here in San Francisco? Is there something to be said for you choosing to live in the Financial District, specifically right next to the site of the new World Trade Center?

AB: I'm a really bad and uncool New Yorker because I never go to readings, I never go to swanky restaurants with famous people, I never do any of the spectacularly groovy things I should be doing. What I do is, stay indoors, study gemstones, make rings out of bronze or silver with these gemstones and my collection of madman goldsmithing tools, take my Italian Greyhound puppy to the dog run so he can eat the mystery nuts that fall from the trees onto the cement, go to Shake Shack for take-out burgers or take photographs of people I'm able to lure downtown to my lair. As for living beside the World Trade Center, that's no accident. I love the endless construction, the no-matter-how-long-it-takes determination of the whole thing; I love the women and men I see there every day building this structure (structures, actually) with their hands from steel and massive blowtorches and cranes. That something so magnificent could rise with such defiance from something so cruel and terrible is, for me, utterly inspiring. And very dusty.

 

SB: Is there anything you can tell our readers about your upcoming project? Has your process and area of interest evolved from your other books to the new one?

A: My next book is not about me. It's about you.  

 

SB: You were born in Pittsburgh and now live in NYC. Pierogies or street vendor hot dogs?

AB: I'm not sure I know what a pierogi is. But vendor hotdogs gross me out. I guess food is the one place in life where I really don't like mystery. 

 

<INTERVIEWER’S NOTE: After showing Augusten a picture of pierogies, he recognized them at once.>


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