David Sedaris Scrutinized for “Realish” Nonfiction

When you’re a humorist who writes memoirs, how much of your storytelling must be true? That’s what NPR is asking themselves about David Sedaris, the bestselling writer who reads some of his stories for the radio station. Sedaris is best known on NPR for his now classic Christmas story about the time he spent working as one of Santa’s elves at Macy’s.

But Sedaris is now under fire for how much of his stories are true and how much is fabricated. It all started when, according to The Washington Post, another writer, Mike Daisey, fabricated some of the facts in his story, which aired on NPR’s This American Life, as Paul Farhi explains.

According to host and producer Ira Glass, “This American Life” began discussing Sedaris’s contributions to the program after an embarrassing episode in March, in which it acknowledged that a monologue by writer Mike Daisey contained numerous fabrications. The show “retracted” the program it aired in January, in which Daisey described harsh working conditions in the Chinese factories that make Apple’s iPhone, iPad and other products. Glass told listeners that Daisey had invented scenes, facts and people — which is exactly what Sedaris has said he’s done.

In fact-checking some of Sedaris’ tales, NPR found that he, too, had fabricated some details and characters. Sedaris admittedly called his stories “realish.”

But Sedaris is a humorist. Daisey is a journalist. Therein lies the difference. Is Sedaris — who has never been considered a journalist — allowed to exaggerate parts of his stories? Or does his title not play a factor since his work airs on NPR’s This American Life program, which airs true stories about people? It’s a tough call, and one that NPR is now closely investigating to decide the best way to proceed.

I personally think NPR should just label Sedaris’ work as partly fiction or “exaggerated” before it airs. What do you guys think? Would love to hear your opinions on this one.

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7 Comments

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7 responses to “David Sedaris Scrutinized for “Realish” Nonfiction

  1. D

    Whoa, next thing you know they’re going to dig up Hunter Thompson and start scrutinizing his honesty. The biggest difference is that Sedaris probably isn’t fabricating information that might be in any way harmful, whereas a journalist making up facts to sensationalize a story is incredibly dangerous.

  2. Actually, I’m a monologist—a theater artist who tells stories on stage—not a journalist.

  3. Sandie

    In general, I am not all that upset when authors like Sedaris and Burroughs jazz up a story with false information – after all, they are entertainers and anyone who reads them knows that – even if the books they write are classified as non-fiction. Don’t we all add to the story to make a good one better? My opinion on David’s childhood is not going to effect any public policy so it can be whatever he wants it to be. I believe non-fiction can tell the story that feels real to the author. It doesn’t have to be the true reality.

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  5. I’m begining to suspect that parts of A Prairie Home Companion by Garrison Keillor might be realish as well. You just can’t trust NPR these days.

  6. Pingback: Movie Based on David Sedaris Essay To Begin Production | Lara's Book Club

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