Have you ever read David Sedaris‘ work and thought, “I wanna write something like that!” Well, your wish just became a little more obtainable.
The best-selling essayist behind Me Talk Pretty One Day — whose most recent collection of semi-autobiographical essays, Calypso, was released in May 2018 — has filmed a MasterClass on storytelling and humor, and EW has an exclusive interview with Sedaris and a trailer of the man in action.
“I don’t know that I would have ever approached them because I don’t think I know very much,” Sedaris tells EW of signing on to the project. “I do what I do, but I don’t know how I do it. So I said to them, ‘I don’t know, I’m not…’ And they said, ‘Oh, you know more than you think you do.'”
So just what does he know? We asked him.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did you approach preparing to teach this class?
DAVID SEDARIS: If I had to sit and give a lecture to a group of students, I don’t know that I could organize it quite that way. I went to school myself, but I took four creative writing classes and that was it. I feel like the rest of it I just kind of learned from reading and I learned from editors. It’s like somebody says to me, “Oh, that’s a nice metaphor.” I don’t even know what that means. I don’t even know what a metaphor is. So I guess I just had to think differently in terms of what I traditionally think of as knowledge.
What did you learn about yourself during this process?
Let’s say I’m on tour or something and I’m being driven to the airport, and the person driving will say, “What kind of writing do you do?” I don’t know what to say. “Well, what do you write about?” I don’t know what to say. I’ve never had to put it in words that way. So, yeah, I guess it did make me think a bit differently. When I was addressing some of the questions, I would answer something and I would say, “How do I know this? How do I know the answer to this question?”
What did you think of the students’ questions?
The questions were really good and they were all really surprising. They weren’t like questions that you would normally get, say, on an interview. I go on these lecture tours a lot, so I’m toward the end of a 54-city tour, and one of the questions you always get from someone who’s not a writer is, “What are you going to do when you run out of ideas?” No writer has ever asked another writer that question. No writer, no creative writer, has ever asked another creative writer that question.
There’s a question about sensitivity when you’re writing about somebody, and my older sister Lisa, she was there with me, so it was really interesting to hear her take on it. I don’t know if it’s anything that we’ve ever really discussed, so to hear her talk about what it’s like being written about was interesting. She wrote a story about me when she was in college and she sent it to me, and it was the weirdest feeling to read about yourself, but at the same time she had really kind of captured me. There were aspects of my personality that I thought I kept so well hidden and it was a really good lesson that they’re not hidden at all, that anybody can see those things right there on the surface.
What did you consider most important that you impart upon your students?
I taught for a couple of years in the late 1980s. I taught creative writing at the school that I graduated from, and I wasn’t necessarily qualified to. One thing that struck me was when I asked the students to write about themselves, they all felt that their experiences were not good enough, that their lives weren’t good enough. They all wanted to have been raised by wolves on the streets of some… to have these, what they considered, exotic lives. They felt like they’d been given nothing just in terms of excitement or in terms of interesting lives, and they didn’t think that their lives were worthy of literature.
If nothing else, I hope that I could convince somebody that their life is, that it’s all how you write about it. If you’re not a very good writer and you’re going to read about being disappointed on your 14th birthday, then probably a lot of people aren’t going to care. But if you’re a good writer, you can write about that in such a way that everyone will be able to relate to it, or you’ll have people laughing, or you’ll have people feeling something. You don’t have to have lost your parents in a car accident and been the only surviving person to have material. There’s material everywhere, it’s all around you, and your life is as worthy as anyone else’s.
Sedaris’ Masterclass is now available at MasterClass.com.
- Judd Apatow shares what fans can expect from his MasterClass
- 8 random — but genius — musings on life from David Sedaris
- David Sedaris goes sadder — but stays funny — in the tender Calypso: EW review