by Pat Patrick
(Also seen in insideOUT)
“Burst onto the literary scene” has become a bit of a cliché these days. The phrase has certainly been used in the case of Augusten Burroughs since the debut of his 2002 memoir Running with Scissors, which subsequently spent two years on the New York Times best-seller list.
“Created a sense of awe and wonder” is more like it when speaking of Augusten Burroughs and his arrival on the book scene. Burroughs had made a haven for himself on the Times list with titles such as Running with Scissors, Dry, Magical Thinking, Possible Side Effects, and his latest A Wolf at the Table.
Burroughs will make his first-ever trip to Nashville for an event presented by The Brooks Fund and the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee.
And though he’s from New England, Burroughs says, “I always feel most at home when I come to the South. I am the first and only Yankee in my family for generations. Even though I was raised in the North, I was the kid that grew up eating boiled peanuts and grits and Brunswick stew.”
His memoirs certainly attest to the Gothic nature of the Burroughs clan. In many ways, the picture he paints of his mother resembles that of the one painted of Amanda Wingfield in the classic Tennessee Williams play The Glass Menagerie.
Burroughs adds, “I just always feel like I’m with my people in the South. I was raised in a Southern family, and they were certainly Gothic if they were nothing else. I remain a Southerner at heart and that’s where my soul is.”
Burroughs comes to Nashville for his latest memoir, A Wolf at the Table. And this time, Burroughs takes aim at his father.
“I can’t say that it was ‘healing,’ but it was clarifying,” explains Burroughs. “I read his journals, elementary school, high school and college papers; I looked through albums containing photographs I had never seen, showing my father as a young boy. I immersed myself in him as much as possible and then I went back in my mind to my childhood.
“My brain has a particular deformity -I don’t screen out much of the information that a normal person would filter and toss aside. And one of the side effects is that my memory extends deep into my past and is, as far as I can tell, extremely accurate. So when I went back to my childhood to write A Wolf at the Table, it was a harrowing experience; vivid and real. Frankly, it was not an experience I would like to repeat. But I had to write the book.
“I didn’t, however, have to ever publish it,” Burroughs summarizes. “But I decided to do so because I knew that I could not be the only person who experienced a sociopath on such an intimate, daily level. And indeed, this has proved to be the case.”
Twice honored by Entertainment Weekly as one of 25 funniest people in America, Burroughs shocked fans and the media alike with the release of A Wolf at the Table. The brutal, terrifying and decidedly unfunny book instantly generated a storm of publicity and controversy. Critics were deeply divided, and the book received some of the worst -and best- reviews of the author’s career.
When asked about the darkness of A Wolf at the Table, Burroughs responded, “That’s really just because it takes place earlier than my other books. During my adolescence, my life was so chaotic and so unsettling that . . . my innate sense of humor really became sharpened into a defense mechanism. If you can keep your sense of humor and find the absurd and ridiculous in even the worst situation, it acts as a life raft. But I didn’t have that ability as a little boy, so I’m much more vulnerable and earnest in this book.”
Burroughs admits that he can’t always dictate the tone in which he writes.
“In extremely stressful situations, my mind automatically engages with what’s odd or ironic or ‘funny’ about the circumstances, even if there appears to be nothing funny going on whatsoever. I think focusing on the absurd was a kind of life raft for me as a child and the lens was ground. It’s also not something I can completely control. For example, I wanted my next book–a collection stories for Christmas–to be completely hysterical, from start to finish. So far, everybody who has read it has said, I loved it. It made me sob.
“So yeah, I can’t always dictate the tone of what I’m going to write. But that’s because I don’t write to create a product so much as I wrote for personal reasons and it just happens to become a product.”
“An Evening with Augusten Burroughs” will be held Wednesday, April 8 at 7:00 PM at Ingram Hall on the campus of Vanderbilt University. The Nashville event with Burroughs, which is free and open to the public, is presented by The Brooks Fund and the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee. Donations to The Brooks Fund will be accepted at the door and a percentage of book sales at the event will benefit The Brooks Fund.
Event sponsors include Davis-Kidd Booksellers, Lightning 100, Nashville Scene, nowplayingnashville.com and Vanderbilt University.
“Many authors on the lecture circuit have a prepared speech," Burroughs says. "It makes it easier on everybody. But I don’t do that. I’m different every single time. I don’t know if I’m going to be horrible, or be good. So I try to keep it focused on them and what they want for their dinner, for their psychological dinner?"
About The Brooks Fund
The Brooks Fund of The Community Foundation exists to protect the dignity, the safety and the health of Middle Tennessee’s GLBT community. By supporting and encouraging the development of programs, The Brooks Fund increases philanthropic options and opportunities within the GLBT community. Created in 1995, The Brooks Fund is named for H. Franklin Books, a Vanderbilt University associate professor in the Department of French and Italian, faculty sponsor for the first lesbian and gay student organization on campus, and an instrumental leader in the dialogue that eventually helped include gays and lesbians in Vanderbilt’s anti-harassment policy in the late 1980s.
About The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee
The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee oversees more than 695 charitable funds. In the past seventeen years, The Community Foundation has distributed $408 million to community programs and institutions. It is located at 3833 Cleghorn Avenue, #400, Nashville, Tennessee 37215. For more information, call 615-321-4939 or visit www.cfmt.org.