At The Beinecke, A Look At David Sedaris' Life Before Santaland | Connecticut Public Radio

At The Beinecke, A Look At David Sedaris' Life Before Santaland

Dec 20, 2018

David Sedaris’ reading of the “Santaland Diaries” is an NPR tradition. Twenty-six years ago, he first shared his tale of being Crumpet, one of Santa’s helpers in Macy’s.

Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library has temporarily displayed a draft of the “Santaland Diaries,” -- alongside Macy’s official guide to proper elf behavior.

Yale recently purchased David Sedaris’ archive, which includes everything from early drafts of his writing, to reading comprehension homework from elementary school.

So far, the archive contains material from Sedaris’ pre-fame years, though more may be added in the coming years. And despite telling the New York Times that he cringes as he thinks about people reading these things, he also sees an upside.

“There’s no way I could have ever gotten into a place like Yale,” he told the paper. “So it thrills me that horrible first drafts of stories I wrote when I was stoned got into an Ivy League school.”

Timothy Young, the Beinecke’s curator for modern books and manuscripts, brought in David Rakoff’s archive shortly before the writer’s death. He knew he wanted Sedaris’ papers next.  

“I knew that there was this really interesting, deeper story about his development,” Young said, “his decades-long development for overnight success.”

A book that David Sedaris made for his mother when he was in second grade.
Credit Tubyez Cropper / Beinecke Library

Sedaris may not have become famous until later in life, but he was creating books from a young age, including one that he made as a gift for his mother.

“It includes pictures of himself and other students from his second grade class,” explained Rosemary Davis, the library’s accessioning archivist. But he also described a “birthday party that he had, a holiday celebration that he had, his relationship with his teacher -- so even at a very early age, you’re seeing him describe these connections that he’s making with people and the environment that he’s living in.”

Before he was a famous author, reading his work in front of audiences around the world, Sedaris entered the elf work force. And Young said those early struggles helped him hone his craft and hit the scene almost fully formed.

“I’m actually sort of glad that his renown came later because I think his writing style and performance style was so well refined and thought through, that when he emerged on NPR in 1992, it was almost perfect,” he said.

Diane Orson contributed to this report.