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Sedaris, David (b. 1956)  
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Using his and his family's experiences, particularly his childhood in Raleigh, North Carolina, and his own wacky perspective on life, David Sedaris has become a world-famous humorist, comedian, writer, playwright, and radio personality. His first five collections of mostly autobiographical essays sold more than 4 million copies, and have been translated into 25 languages. As of 2008, his books have sold more than 7 million copies.

Sedaris's fans also know that he is openly and happily gay and living mainly in France with his partner, Hugh Hamrick, a painter, set designer, and theater director. The couple divide their time between a Left Bank apartment in Paris, a house in Normandy, and a flat in London's Kensington neighborhood.

Sedaris was the second child born to middle-class, Greek-American parents on December 26, 1956, in Johnson City, New York. When he was seven, his father, Lou, an IBM engineer, and his mother, Sharon, moved to the suburbs of Raleigh, North Carolina to raise their six children. Sedaris's childhood is the source of a great deal of his humor and may account for his quirky outlook on life.

When he was a child, Sedaris suffered from a lisp, an obsessive-compulsive disorder, and juvenile Tourette's syndrome. The lisp was treated in speech therapy, and Sedaris claims the Tourette's syndrome improved immensely when he started smoking cigarettes. These childhood tribulations have yielded richly comic anecdotes in his books.

After graduating from high school, Sedaris attended Kent State University in 1977, but dropped out. He moved to Chicago in 1983, where he studied writing at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He graduated in 1987.

During his time in Chicago, Sedaris was heavily involved with drugs and alcohol. He scraped by with a series of odd jobs, including picking apples and painting houses. He also experimented with visual and performance art, but, as several of his essays attest, he was pitifully unsuccessful in those areas.

Sedaris's life turned around in 1990 when he met Hugh Hamrick, who soon became his lover. Sedaris explains the attraction simply: he needed a ladder and Hamrick had one.

When asked about coming out to his family, Sedaris says he never really had a coming out moment; he just referred casually to "the guy I'm seeing." His parents did a double-take, then dropped it. "We're not very direct people," Sedaris explains. "My dad, he's a product of his generation. For him to have become as accepting as he has is really something. For me to expect more would be greedy."

In 1992, Sedaris met Chicago radio host Ira Glass who asked Sedaris to appear on his weekly local program, The Wild One. Sedaris's success on The Wild One led to his National Public Radio debut on December 23, 1992, on Morning Edition, on which he read his now-classic story "SantaLand Diaries," about his stint working as an elf at Macy's department store during the holiday season.

Sedaris says, "I owe everything to Ira . . . my life changed completely like someone waved a magic wand." Sedaris became an instant radio star. Soon, he was recording a monthly segment for NPR's This American Life, edited and produced by Glass and distributed nationally by WBEZ in Chicago. He also began publishing essays in Esquire and The New Yorker.

Sedaris's first book, Barrel Fever: Stories and Essays, was published by Bay Back Books in 1994. The first part of the book is short fiction; the second part contains autobiographical essays. The book became a national best-seller and was selected as one of the Village Voice Literary Supplement's "Favorite Books of the Year." It was a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award.

The essays in Barrel Fever, written in Sedaris's deadpan prose, focus on the mundane, ludicrous aspects of modern life though they often have an undercoat of seriousness and transgressiveness that borders on the tragic. Critics praised the book, and Sedaris was called "the Dave Barry of the NPR set." Publishers Weekly called him "Garrison Keillor's evil twin."

Sedaris followed Barrel Fever with another best-seller, 1997's Naked, a collection of autobiographical essays about his upbringing, his drug-filled college days, and the string of dead-end jobs he held as a young adult. With dark humor and sharp wit, Sedaris writes about his obsessive-compulsive behavior and his juvenile Tourette's syndrome, his grandmother, and even his mother's death. The collection was a Lambda Literary Award finalist.

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David Sedaris in 2005. Photograph by Aaron Matthews.
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