Words and Gems
The passions of Augusten Burroughs––New York Times best selling author
Writer Augusten Burroughs poses for the perfect selfie.
Photo Courtesy of Augusten Burroughs
Fifteen years ago Augusten Burroughs published Running with Scissors and raised the bar for writing memoir to infinite heights. The telling of his unorthodox parents and their struggles with alcoholism and mental illness and confronting his own demons resonated with his countless readers. He continued to share the inner workings of his life with Dry, A Wolf at the Door: A Memoir of My Father; and Lust and Wonder. His ability to look at his life through an unfiltered lens with no holds barred makes him one of the most effective memoirists of our time. Nevertheless he never anticipated the success of Running with Scissors.
“My publisher really loved it,” Burroughs recalls, but even they had modest expectations, so the first printing was small. It just didn’t seem like the kind of book that would hit the New York Times bestseller list. And yet, it ended up locking in the number one spot for several years. It felt surreal.” He still had much to say and so the subsequent memoirs dealt with other issues, even though some of them were painful to reveal.
“The most difficult to write was the one about my father, A Wolf at the Table,” says Burroughs. “He lacked empathy and would today probably be diagnosed as a sociopath. He was also an alcoholic for the duration of my childhood and while he wasn’t physically abusive, he was psychologically cruel.”
Burroughs himself has battled alcoholism and in fact his writing is intertwined with his sobriety. Keeping a journal as a teenager helped him feel safe and self-contained.
“I started writing again when I got sober because I just didn’t know what else to do. Writing was how I got to know myself, what I was feeling, what I wanted. Writing has always been a way to see myself and my life clearly so that I could free myself.”
Writing is not Burroughs’ sole outlet for creativity and satisfaction—he is a self-taught gemologist as well and has amassed a collection of hundreds of pieces of jewelry.
“I bought my first piece when I was five—a silver and turquoise ring from Mexico when I was on a trip with my mother. The interest in jewelry came from my paternal grandmother, an eccentric southern lady who wore chinchilla slippers and rings on every finger.”
He looks for the old, rare, and unique and doesn’t focus on the value of the piece. “I love uncommon gems and intricate detailing. What I love most is finding the object. It’s all about the hunt for me. I occasionally sell a piece but mostly I just hoard them.”
Like so many New Yorkers, Burroughs now resides in the country. He and his husband (and literary agent) Christopher Schelling found the perfect 18th century farmhouse in Southbury, replete with a guest cottage.
“Living in Manhattan was fantastic and exciting and then it wasn’t,” Burroughs explains. “My very early childhood was spent in the country and I missed it for years. I wanted to live in a really old house and now I do.”
While Burroughs is loath to discuss what he is working on now, when asked if there will be another book soon, his reply was “very soon.” We know it will be worth the wait.