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HEARD ON CAMPUS

Sweet Smell of Success



On Tuesday, March 6, while a few stray snowflakes from the Winter Storm That Wasn’t fell outside the windows of Kelly Writers House, writer and humorist David Sedaris was interviewed by Dr. Alan Filreis, the Class of 1942 Professor of English and faculty director of the Writers House. Sedaris, the tart-tongued commentator for National Public Radio and author of Naked and other collections of essays, was one of three Writers House Fellows this year, and the day before the interview he gave a seminar for undergraduates and a public reading. The interview opened with a series of questions on the popularity of Sedaris’ work and the resulting freedom from money woes, which—among other things—allowed him to quit working as a housecleaner and move to Paris, where he now lives. For a complete audiocast, visit the Writers House Web site at (www.english.upenn.edu/~wh/).

Audience Member: I was wondering how hard it was for you to give up your day job and how long it took to do it after you actually could have?

Sedaris: I kept my day job until after Naked came out—or just before Naked came out, because I had to get in the rewrites … I went to a place called Yaddo [a writers’ colony] and then I came back from there and worked for a while but that was pretty much it. It was very hard to give up my job, and it still is. I liked the fact that it gave me a place to go every day; it put me in the world; and it was a kind of work with a definite [satisfaction]. You walk into somebody’s house, and it’s filthy. You leave, and it’s clean. And you think, “Oh, I feel good about that.” Whereas now, my self-worth is just based on work—on a different kind of work—so if work’s not going very well and at the end of the day all I wind up with is one paragraph, I feel worthless. Absolutely worthless.
   I can clean my own home, but there’s not that satisfaction. It’s not like anyone else is going to walk in and say, “Boy, this place smells great.” And even if I wasn’t there when they walked in I could imagine them [and] think, “Boy, they’re going to be shocked when they look in this crisper.”


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Copyright 2001 The Pennsylvania Gazette Last modified 5/2/01