David Sedaris returns to Breckenridge to promote new book, ‘Theft By Finding’
If you can’t get an interview with David Sedaris, speaking with Jeffrey Jenkins is the next best thing.
When Sedaris returns to Breckenridge this Thursday to discuss and read from his new book, “Theft By Finding,” Jenkins will be there too. That’s because Jenkins is the compiler of “David Sedaris Diaries: A Visual Compendium,” an artistic companion to “Theft By Finding.” Much as the books complement each other, so will Jenkins and Sedaris — Jenkins introducing with an audiovisual display, and Sedaris following up with words and wit.
Diaries in 3-D
Sedaris and Jenkins can trace their friendship to Raleigh, North Carolina, in the ’70s, when they were members of the same Boy Scout troop. Although Sedaris was a few years older, Jenkins grew close to the family, and as they got older and left town, they kept in touch. In New York, Sedaris would attend Jenkins’ art openings and Jenkins would attend Sedaris’ plays.
Several years ago, Jenkins visited Sedaris at his home in London, where the author showed him a cabinet full of diaries.
As a graphic artist, Jenkins appreciated the visual aspects of the diaries, which consisted not only of writing but also art — drawn, painted and collected.
“The covers are all very interesting, they vary a lot,” Jenkins said. They include paintings and drawings by both Sedaris and his boyfriend Hugh, as well as found images collected from thrift stores, such as album covers and obscure paintings. Scattered throughout the pages are scraps, tidbits and odd objects, rendering the diaries three-dimensional.
“There’s a lot of discovery when you go through (them),” Jenkins recalled. “It’s almost like a pop-up book experience.”
A few years later, Sedaris approached Jenkins with the idea of the visual companion to accompany “Theft By Finding,” his first book of published diary entries.
Jenkins photographed parts of the diaries, and began choosing pieces of text to put on the page with the photos and collages and artistic pieces that would best represent the full dimensionality of the diaries themselves.
“I put excerpts in as well as pictures of pages with the original writing, so there’s a flavor of his writing throughout the book,” Jenkins said.
“The truth is, his visual acumen and sensitivity is equal that of many well-regarded artists, so I think it was important to show that and give him that credibility too,” he said. “So I treated the book more academically than playfully, because I thought it wanted that kind of respect. … I let his work speak for itself, rather than trying to re-interpret it by cropping it or layering things on top of other things.”
“When there’s a collage,” he added, “I don’t want it to be one that I made to express his work — I just try to show his collage in a way that expresses what he was doing.”
The visual companion is large, hardbound, and 256 pages. It, too, is a mix of flat pages and extra elements. The images reproduce so crisply that you need to run your hand over them to determine whether they contain multiple layers. Perusing the book becomes a physical experience, with odd bits of paper offering different texture or shapes. Colors clash and complement.
“The book itself is a piece of art,” said Robb Woulfe, president and CEO of Breckenridge Creative Arts. “It’s beautiful and it gives you some insight into Sedaris’ creative brain, with his doodling and his unique outlook on the world.”
‘A sensitive antenna’
No doubt Jenkins’ long-time relationship with Sedaris informed his decision regarding the images to include in the compendium. Even early on, Jenkins remembers receiving correspondences from Sedaris as he spent some time traveling across the country in his 20s, taking on jobs like fruit-picking and writing down everything he saw and experienced.
“Even then, he’s writing on the postcard, snippets and fragments of thoughts and poetic musings, and I think it’s all a precursor to the way he deals with the fragments of overheard conversations and things that he finds physically too; they both end up in the diary and later he can pull from that for his stories,” Jenkins said.
Those who have read Sedaris’ work or heard him speak know his style of wry, dry wit. His essays are full of ridiculous, humorous characters, including his family members, who come alive in absurdly entertaining ways. His secret to gathering such jaw-dropping stories? Jenkins has heard him explain it on his tours, and it mostly entails putting down his phone and paying attention to people.
“I think of him as an archaeologist of the present,” Jenkins said. “He’s very good at filtering the top layer of things that he’s experiencing. He’s not analytical in a sociological way, he’s more responding immediately to what he’s hearing and that’s what makes his writing so interesting — it’s so spontaneous and I think we all relate to things we overhear, but he’s got a sensitive antenna for picking up stuff.”
Time for everyone
Not only will Sedaris be speaking in Breckenridge on Thursday, but he’ll also be signing his books before and after the show. Both Jenkins and BreckCreate’s Woulfe commented on Sedaris’ commitment to his fans.
“Sitting at a signing table with him is a whole other (form of) entertainment,” Jenkins said. “He talks to everyone, sometimes at great length.”
Fans are just as likely to have something doodled as written in their books, as well as little extras like stickers.
“(He writes) whatever pops into his brain — and sometimes it’s hilarious and sometimes it’s kind of weird and sometimes it’s both,” Woulfe said with a laugh. “I think that’s definitely the charm of him — you never quite know what you’re going to get.”
Tickets for the event are going fast, and Woulfe encourages anyone who’s interested to act quickly. Those who do attend the evening will find plenty to take in visually as well as through Sedaris’ descriptive storytelling and humorous anecdotes.
“David is as funny and interesting in his visual communication as he is in his writing,” Jenkins said. “And I just think people would probably find that interesting to know that about him.”
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