GuRu author RuPaul on his literary influences: Ruth Pointer's wig and 'trashy' Jackie Collins novels
A version of this story appears in the Julia Roberts issue of Entertainment Weekly, on stands now. Don’t forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.
The Emmy-winning drag superstar, host of RuPaul’s Drag Race, and author of GuRu — a collection of fierce witticisms and tips for the modern glamazon, in stores and available online now — opens the library on his fabulous literary influences, from Armistead Maupin and Jane Fonda to a candid passage by Ruth Pointer about removing her wig. Read on for the results of EW’s Books of My Life quiz with RuPaul.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Which literary figure would benefit most from reading GuRu?
RUPAUL: Dorian Gray! It’s important to look deeper than just the surface, and I think GuRu is a perfect companion to someone who’s a seeker, who’s looking deeper than just the superficial.
What was your favorite book as a kid?
I loved Animal Farm. I read it early on and I got it early on. It’s…. still one of my favorite books. It shows how humans tend to forget the reason they wanted to do this life in the first place or why they had a revolution in the first place. [It’s] just as relevant today as it was when I read it as a 12-year-old. I never drank the Kool-Aid. I always looked for answers below the surface or hidden answers to life’s questions, so that book resonated, especially because it was a parable.
Which book have you read over and over again throughout your life?
Because I’ve read it so many times, I listen to Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth on audio book every night before I go to bed. I fall asleep to it, so it goes into my subconscious…. It’s life-changing and it helps you understand who you are and what you’re doing on this planet, and it also allows you to forgive other people, usually because other people are working out of their egos and fears. It gives you an opportunity to forgive.
It speaks to the experience of a human on this planet, evolution, your spirit, and how you can become a better person. It teaches you how to recognize the voice that you hear coming from inside your head and inside your heart. That voice, most times in our ego-centric world, is that of the ego. The ego speaks of being separate from everyone else and looking for information that supports that separation. But the truth is, we are one thing and we are not separate from one another. It speaks of consciousness and of how to connect with different levels of consciousness.
Why did that one speak to you so strongly?
I was always looking for more. As a kid I thought, this can’t be all there is. Through my experiments with hallucinogens, I learned there were different types of consciousness and I always wanted to carry that and remember how to find those different levels of consciousness. Thankfully, with a lot of practice, I can find those different levels of consciousness through meditation, not pharmaceuticals. When you’re able to oscillate between different realities, you can find a balance that allows you to live a balanced life. My drag performance is my way of trying to lighten myself up. I can be very intense and a true Scorpio, and my drag persona has always been a way for me to keep it light and have fun.
What’s your favorite celebrity memoir and why?
A Paper Life by Tatum O’Neal. It’s the juiciest celebrity autobiography I’ve ever read. She holds nothing back! Also, Ruth Pointer of the Pointer Sisters’ Still So Excited! [There’s] one line in it where she talks about meeting her third husband, [Dennis Edwards] of the Temptations. The first night they hooked up, she coyly [said]: “Dennis, would you mind if I took off my wig?” And he said, “As long as you don’t mind if I take mine off too!” [That quote is] one of my favorites.
David Ritz did a book with Aretha Franklin 20 years ago, and then two years ago he decided he’d take all of those notes and write the real book. It’s called Respect. It’s so good and so juicy. When you read it, obviously it was written before she died, but you realize it’s true, it’s not made-up stuff…. One of my favorites in recent years. I love Jane Fonda’s book My Life So Far. It’s so candid, so real, and she really lets you have it.
Who’s your favorite queer writer?
I love James St. James’ Disco Bloodbath, [the book] Party Monster is based on. I’ve known him for about 300 years. He writes the same way he speaks. I know how his mind works, so it’s fun to peek in and hang with him and his sensibilities. His other one, [Freak Show], Trudie Styler made a movie of that book with Bette Midler! It’s about a teenage drag queen in high school.
Which literary figure — alive or dead — would you most like to kiki with on What’s the Tee?
Jacqueline Susann, because she had a not-so-successful acting career, and her way of getting back at the business was to become a writer and write about it. Her life was cut short by cancer, but I’m sure she’d have all the stories to tell. Apparently a lot of the stories in Valley of the Dolls are thinly disguised stories of real people. I’m always interested in the untold stories of Hollywood. Usually you get to hear them from real estate agents, hairdressers, makeup people…. but you never really see them on screen or on television because Hollywood does not like movies or television shows about itself. But Jacqueline did. [I’d ask her] to give me the dirt on the making of Valley of the Dolls and what real life actors and actresses these characters were based on!
Which male character from a book would make the best subject for a drag makeover?
[The main] character from Tales of the City, Armistead Maupin’s book. I’d probably go with him because that book and the character were on the verge of some great things happening, but he never quite got to the other side [because] all of that stuff was happening before the AIDS crisis. The book takes place before all of those things in the late ‘70s. He was a seeker and open to exploring, that’s why he moves to San Francisco. You know who might be even better? Lestat [from Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire] would be a great drag queen, a vampire drag queen! Especially since he’d become a rock star at one point. He’s fantastic!
Who would I want to play in drag? Definitely Lucky Santangelo! [Or] any character of Jackie Collins’, and I’d love to play [Christina Crawford’s] Mommie Dearest on Broadway.
What’s the last book that made you laugh out loud?
Right now I’m reading Calypso by David Sedaris. I always look forward to his books. I’m reading Calypso and his diaries at the same time. I really enjoy those. He’s so smart and so clever, and the rhythm of his writing fits into my heart and into my own rhythm. He tickles me.
Do you have any literary crushes?
The characters in the trashy novels, like Jackie Collins’ Lucky Santangelo. I fall in love with those kinds of characters.
Which book would you recommend for people struggling in today’s political climate?
Animal Farm and 1984 are perfect companions. You understand the tricks politicians employ to get control of people. The basic method with all of that stuff is: people forget. That’s a constant. We thought we were doing our kids a favor by keeping them from some of the harsh realities of life and prolonging their innocence as children, but in reality what we did wasg, we made them soft and unable to decipher when there’s real danger, and that’s what we’re dealing with today.
Who is one celebrity who hasn’t written a book that you wish would?
Usually I’m disappointed by celebrity memoirs because they’re soft and don’t really get in there and tell the truth. That’s why the Tatum O’Neal one is so juicy. [But] I’d love to read a real, true, from-the-gut autobiography by Madonna. I bet she’s got some good stories. I’d love to read a Cher one. She has one called The First Time, which just talked about the first time she drove a car or the first time she flew in an airplane, but I’d love to have her really sit down and write her whole story.