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David Sedaris shares candid stories at Santa Rosa show

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If You Go

Who: David Sedaris

When: 8 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 14

Where: Luther Burbank Center for the Arts, 50 Mark West Springs Road, Santa Rosa

Admission: $39-$55

Information: 707-546-3600, lutherburbankcenter.org

Fans of author David Sedaris know that he’s uncommonly candid. He’ll freely admit he’s a night walker, roaming the streets of England late at night and picking up litter.

“I usually go to bed about 2 or 3 in the morning. I’ll walk for a couple hours around the city, and they don’t have street lights in this country,” the humorist said.

Sometimes his travels take him much farther. He recently returned home to the United Kingdom from Norway, and he’ll be in Santa Rosa next week for a speaking engagement at the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts.

“I’m not home a whole lot. I like traveling,” said Sedaris, 62, who lives with his longtime partner, painter and set designer Hugh Hamrick, in Rackham, West Sussex. “When I’m at home, I talk to one person. And when I go out, maybe I’ll talk to a cashier.

“My world is pretty small. When I travel, I’m talking to a hundred people a day. I love picking up information.”

There’s a lot to talk about. Sedaris has sold 12 million books, translated into 27 languages. While he’s justly known for his sardonic wit, his 10th and most recent book — the New York Times bestselling collection of his essays from 2018 titled “Calypso” — also touches on serious issues.

“I didn’t consciously sit down to write a darker book,” he during a recent phone interview. “I write about aging. As you get older, people you know die, and you have cancer scares. Sorrow gives humor weight.”

To illustrate his meaning, Sedaris cites his young sister, actress, comedian and writer Amy Sedaris, and her work with the Chicago improvisational comedy troupe Second City:

“My sister Amy used to be in Second City, and I’d go to her shows and I’d laugh, but afterwards, I wouldn’t remember anything.”

Among the most serious topics mentioned in “Calypso” is the suicide of the author’s youngest sister, Tiffany.

“I wrote a couple of essays about it and the way it affected our family, and I heard from so many people who had a similar experience,” Sedaris said.

It’s common for people to say, “My job is what I do, not who I am,” but no one is likely to hear that from Sedaris. Writing is quite clearly central to his life. He wrote journal entries, essays and stories for 15 years before the publication of his first book, “Barrel Fever,” in 1994.

“I wrote every day,” Sedaris said. “It just seemed normal to me.”

That first published book included perhaps his most famous essay, “Santaland Diaries,” based on the Christmas season temp job he once took as an elf at Macy’s in New York. The piece made him a public figure when it first aired on National Public Radio in 1992.

His radio work had a lot to do with spreading his fame at home and abroad. For example, English folk often find Sedaris — born in New York state and raised in the suburbs of Raleigh, N.C. — a bit peculiar but likable the just the same.

One fellow approached Sedaris near the train station and politely inquired, “Are you the American on the radio who picks up rubbish?”

When Sedaris confirmed it, the stranger went on to add where the author might acquire some choice bits of cast-off stuff.

“It’s a compulsion,” Sedaris admitted, but his litter-collecting has won him some honors. The Queen of England once invited him to Buckingham Palace on that account.

Just as he felt driven to write throughout of his life so far, Sedaris expects to continue his work as long as he lives.

“I’m compelled to write. I can’t imagine quitting,” he said. “People who have jobs, like accountants, do retire I guess. You don’t retire from writing. I would still write every day.”

You can reach staff writer Dan Taylor at 707-521-5243 or dan.taylor@pressdemocrat.com.

If You Go

Who: David Sedaris

When: 8 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 14

Where: Luther Burbank Center for the Arts, 50 Mark West Springs Road, Santa Rosa

Admission: $39-$55

Information: 707-546-3600, lutherburbankcenter.org

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