LAMBDA Volume 27: Issue 2
A Writer's Adventures
The New York Times best-selling
author Augusten Burroughs swings by UNC to speak about his childhood,
relationships and writer's block
Augusten Burroughs speaks to an attentive audience about his
works. Burroughs was the keynote speaker of celebration week
by David Ruskey
He wears designer blazers over
casual T-shirts and trendy glasses under baseball caps.
He is the best-selling author of
three books: “Sellevision,” “Running with Scissors” and “Dry.”
He has been profiled in everything
from Entertainment Weekly to The Advocate.
And April 6 proved that on top of it
all, he is also an incredible speaker.
But the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender – Straight Alliance didn’t choose Augusten Burroughs as the
keynote speaker of Celebration Week based solely on his books, Details
magazine column or even his unusual sense of style.
“We chose (him) ... in hopes that
such a big name would get folks out from both the LGBTQ community on campus
and the greater community at large,” said sophomore Sarah Carucci, one of
Celebration Week’s lead organizers. “We really wanted to reach out to those
people who don’t typically associate themselves with GLBT-SA.”
The plan, it seems, was a success.
More than 100 students and community members attended the speech and book
As Burroughs fiddled with a rubber
band and overemphasized each blink of his eyes, he opened the speech by
announcing his problematic dislike for actually speaking.
“Who wants to hear me talk?” he
asked. “Everything I have to say, I say in a book. (Questions and answers)
are really the most interesting part – for myself and for the people
attending the event.”
Burroughs went on to explain the
unorthodox childhood he wrote about in “Running with Scissors.” The book has
remained nearly 50 weeks on The New York Times Best-Seller List.
“I spent all of my twenties running
away from my childhood world,” he said.
This world included a
manic-depressive mother who sent him to live with a psychiatrist, a new
house with an old electroshock machine beneath the stairwell, and a
34-year-old man named Bookman, with whom he shared a relationship.
“(That relationship) was never
questioned or picked apart,” he said. “It was as natural as being right- or
But when Bookman left one day to get
film and didn’t return, Burroughs was never the same.
“I developed issues,” he said,
laughing and making quotation marks in the air with his fingers. “We all
have events that define us. That was the biggest.”
He did his best to move through life
against these odds. Despite this childhood, Burroughs, who never learned
long division and who once submitted manuscripts in which he capitalized
words like chocolate cake and penis, achieved a successful career in
copy-writing for an advertiser.
Around this same time he began
another dangerous relationship. This time his love was alcohol.
The addiction eventually reached an
extreme; Burroughs could see his liver when standing in front of a mirror
and put cologne on his tongue to hide the smell of alcohol. This portion of
his life is chronicled in “Dry.”
“After sleeping with or dating nearly every single guy in Manhattan, I
decided to get sober,” he said. “I also had the epiphany that I couldn’t die
until I tried to write.”
Seven days and 150 pages later,
Burroughs explained, he had written what would become his first novel, “Sellevision.”
The rest of his discussions were
mottled with explanations through similes – “Being gay is as normal as any
Tuesday” or “Beating writer’s block is like stretching for a bodybuilder.”
The moral of his life story, which
he hopes has been conveyed in his writing, is that you can get through
anything no matter how hard it is.
In the question and answer portion
of the lecture – his favorite part – an audience member asked the burning
question: “Would you change anything in your life?”
“I don’t regret any of it,” he said.
“All of those experiences made me stronger. I survived by adapting.”
Audience members applauded at the
end of the speech, discussing the different ways they relate to what
Burroughs told in his stories. People always feel as if they know him after
reading or hearing his tales, he said.
“I’m sure many members of the audience found his speech compelling and
inspiring,” said junior Eric Blue. “It reinforced the idea that with
motivation and determination, you can … become anything you want to be.”
As Burroughs waved before stepping
out for the book signing, you could see a gold band around his left ring
finger – a symbol of personal commitment to his partner, Dennis. He and
Dennis live together in Manhattan and plan to wed in Massachusetts as soon
as they can.
“I am certain that marriage is a
basic human right, something that should be available to every couple,”
Although you won’t see him fighting
the issue in a courtroom, keep an eye on his battleground of choice: the
page. It might appear in his next Details column or in a future book.
Burroughs’ latest memoir, “Magical
Thinking: True Stories,” is his personal favorite. It includes tales ranging
from a post-“Scissors” childhood to living the single life in New York. The
book ends with the introduction of Dennis and the story of how he and
Burroughs fall in love. It hits shelves Oct. 5 nationwide.
Burroughs left campus in a hurry to
make his next speech but wishes he could have stayed for more of Celebration
“There’s much to celebrate,” he
said. “Not just this week but every week. True, there are challenges and
there are mindsets that need to be reversed. But day in and day out,
(people) can just be themselves. And they can love whom they choose. And
they don’t have to be afraid."
Guest writer and junior David
Ruskey, a journalism and mass communication and communication studies double
major from Pasadena, Md., can be contacted at