What do James Garfield, shopping mall elves, guerilla revolutionary John Brown and “One Life to Live” have in common?
They can all be found in the pages of the works of two authors who will be giving Santa Barbara audiences a chance to peer into their creative processes this week. On Friday, UCSB Arts & Lectures is sponsoring the appearance at the Arlington Theatre of David Sedaris, author of Me Talk Pretty One Day and Naked, and Sarah Vowell, author of The Partly Cloudy Vacation and Assassination Vacation.
The tie that binds here is the Public Radio International/Chicago Public Radio program called “This American Life,” which if you haven’t heard, please go online and do so immediately. It is a hugely popular hour-long feature of essays, reflections, reports and storytelling. Ironic, varied and always affecting, the program is brainchild of Ira Glass, but is just as well known for the efforts of its large stable of able contributors. Both Vowell and Sedaris have long been regular members, and both jump-started their public careers reading their work on the show.
David Sedaris is one of those all-or-nothing writers. Some people have never read his books, but those who have never seem to stop at one. And with three of his novels having held impressive tenures on the New York Times bestseller list, I think it’s safe to say there are a lot of people in the latter category. Writing largely autobiographical essays on everything from mental asylums, cross-country road trips, nudist colonies, living in rural France with his boyfriend and, most frequently, about his colorful upbringing in the Sedaris family (which also produced Amy Sedaris of “Strangers With Candy” fame). Sedaris is embarrassingly honest, hilarious and occasionally heart wrenching. On the touring circuit, Sedaris is known as much for his quiet, nice-guy persona as for his brilliant prose, and his appearance at UCSB a couple years back without Vowell won over fans and first-timers alike.
Sarah Vowell may not yet enjoy the recognizability of Sedaris, but certainly not for lack of talent. With an authoritative voice like a sardonic grad student, Vowell’s novels also recount her varied and strange experiences and travels, from girlhood to the present. Unlike Sedaris, Vowell has an even greater passion for Americana, and her works are rife with the most amusing American esoterica in print. In Assassination Vacation, Vowell goes on a pilgrimage researching the deaths of Lincoln, Garfield and McKinley, encountering such memorabilia as a piece of John Wilkes Booth’s thorax.
Sedaris and Vowell will be reading selections from their latest works, both of which are still being written, at the Arlington. Word is that Sedaris is currently penning a series of fables featuring animals, a couple of which have run over the past year in The New Yorker. What Vowell’s been working on is anyone’s guess. What is for certain is that if their latest works are anything near the caliber of their other works, the walls of the Arlington should be ringing with the most laughter they’ve seen since Garry Trudeau dropped by.