Fresh off the plane from Atlanta, Augusten Burroughs walked on stage in Presentation Theater admitting, “I don’t really have a thing I say when I speak… I’m ill prepared,” he said with a laugh.
The acclaimed author most famously known for his memoir Running With Scissors was at the University of San Francisco to present a talk titled “Memoir As A Grand Unifying Experience” as part of the Davies Forum Seminar.
His lively presentation was unscripted, comprising mainly of comical anecdotes and audience Q&A. Topics varied from metal briefcases to gemology, but usually tied back to his books. He dismissed the notion that a person has to have a wild life story to write a great memoir; Burroughs cites himself as “an extreme example”. If someone wants to write a memoir they simply have to pay “laser attention” to what is happening around them. He credits himself with being a highly visual person, which allows him to remember and recall his experiences in life.
When asked about his lack of formal schooling, Burroughs who dropped out of school after the sixth grade and obtained his GED when he was 17, said he is glad he never studied writing. He thinks that it would have made him too self-conscious. He also confesses that he is not the biggest reader but that he enjoys when writing rings true to a person. He said with a smirk, “I don’t read anymore. I watch TV. It’s too hard to read.”
Burroughs’ presentation ranged from whimsical to serious as he talked about the healing process of his writing. He said he doesn’t consider his writing cathartic but that “there are just some things you don’t heal from.” Burroughs memoirs are known for their dark, dysfunctional nature as he recounts his childhood devoid of familial norms. He never thought he would be a memoirist but shares he had a hard time finding stories about people like him, “I looked for them and I didn’t see it, so I wrote it.”
Burroughs was the second presenter of this semester’s Davies Forum. The first was writer and blogger Nathan Bransford. The speakers for the forum are chosen in accordance to this semester’s topic “Making American Book Culture.” The theme was selected by current Davies Forum and Media Studies Professor Vamsee Juluri.
Although faculty and topics change every semester, all professors structure their classes with the underlying concept of “The Search for Values in Contemporary America.” With regards to this semester’s topic Juluri said, “We need to look at books as a form of media. Books are the oldest mass media in history.” The class will be looking at all aspects of this topic from writing to publishing.
Philanthropist and former trustee Louise M. Davies makes the seminars possible by providing funds to support the presentations. High performing students at USF are invited to apply for the seminars, a total of 15 students is selected. Junior Jamey Padojino said, “It does feel like an accomplishment, in a way.” The students are distinguished as Davies Scholars.
For a full list of Davies Forum presenters, visit http://www.usfca.edu/artsci/daviesforum/.