David Sedaris is like Aesop for the 21st century — a bitchy, funny Aesop without the animals. The first work of his that brought him acclaim — The Santaland Diaries, which detailed his Christmas spent as a Macy's elf — is about as close as you can come today to finding an almost classical blending of moral truths and mortal vices. Observations like "All I do is lie, and that has made me immune to compliments," rest next to statements like "Everyone looks retarded once you set your mind to it." It's snarky, funny, and touching writing, and it has made Sedaris one of the best-selling essayists to hit bookstores since the golden years of The New Yorker.
The pieces were first broadcast on National Public Radio and were tremendously popular. Sedaris emerged from a housecleaning job to become the beacon of cynicism that Americans were looking to shove on top of their overburdened Christmas trees. He went on to turn the essay into a play, and published it in his first collection of essays, Barrel Fever. Reviews for the collection were positive, with the likes of fellow Get Lit! reader Lynda Barry stating that "These are the kind of stories you instinctively read really fast because they are so good and so naughty you feel certain someone will snatch them away from you." But nobody could have predicted how popular Sedaris was going to become with the publication of his next collection of essays, Naked.
Naked arrived on bookshelves in the middle of a glut of autobiographies. Seemingly everyone capable of conscious thought was collecting their experiences and observations, and spreading them across pages like pre-fabricated packets of butter. Naked ostensibly fit this very marketable niche, since the topic of the book was Sedaris' life. But where other writers were choosing to wallow in carefully measured judgments of their siblings and parents, Sedaris plunged right in. Of his grandmother, he wrote: "It was difficult to imagine her raising a child of her own, and chilling to realize that she had." When he wrote about learning that his mother had cancer, he avoided melodrama, and cut straight to the insecure heart of the middle class, deciding about her that "It was her hope to die before one of us landed in jail."
Me Talk Pretty One Day, and Holidays on Ice have followed, confirming Sedaris' status as one of America's most popular essayists - something that Get Lit! founder Scott Poole says he's delighted to be able to use to leverage the festival. "We knew that his style of literary comedy would be something that a wide audience in Spokane would enjoy," Poole says. "We've slowly over the years been trying to reach out to a wider group of readers. Suddenly, we decided to go for it and really get a headliner that people would know. Luckily, the response has been great. More people know about the festival than ever before, and it's given us a great start on getting another great headliner for next year."
Who that headliner is, Poole isn't quite ready to announce yet. But he is explicit about his hopes to make Get Lit! a tool that can serve the literary community. "Generally, we're hoping that the increased visibility of the festival will help create a stronger community of writers and readers in Spokane and contribute to the overall strengthening of the arts community in Spokane. Specifically, we're hoping that people will look forward to the festival every year in the same way that they look for Artfest, Bloomsday and Hoopfest. Of course, increased attendence and visibility will allow us to bring the best writers available to Spokane every year and give greater audiences exposure to Spokane's many wonderful emerging writers."
The growth of Get Lit! depends on the people who attend the festival, this year and in the future. But with Sedaris' reading at the Met nearly sold out and other recognizable names reading at different venues throughout the week, things are looking up for Spokane's literary festival. As Sedaris wrote, at the end of his essay "Twelve Moments in the Life of the Artist:" "This is a new and brighter world, in which I am free to hurry along, celebrating my remarkable ability to walk, to run."
Publication date: 04/03/03