The Written Image: David Sedaris Diaries

From the November/December 2017 issue of
Poets & Writers Magazine

From his first “diary” (a Kodak film box stuffed full of ephemera from his travels through the U.S. Pacific Northwest, collected in 1977) to more recent notebooks of art, writings, mementos, and postcards, writer and humorist David Sedaris has kept 153 diaries in the past forty years. In May Little, Brown published Theft by Finding, a selection of text from the diaries, and in October followed it up with David Sedaris Diaries: A Visual Compendium. Edited and photographed by artist Jeffrey Jenkins, a childhood friend of Sedaris’s from their days in a Boy Scout troop, the book includes photos and cutout images from Sedaris’s layered and collage-like diaries.

Photo by David Hamsley.

The collection shows Sedaris’s skill as an artist; Jenkins says he was surprised by the “visual, interactive nature of the diaries themselves—the fact that every time you turn a page or element in the diary, it may reveal and reframe all of the pages below it into something new and different.” Jenkins also notes how thorough and disciplined Sedaris is in keeping a diary; in his introduction to the book, Sedaris admits it’s an unshakable habit and cops to obsessively going through the trash while out on walks so he can look for ephemera. The visual diaries embody the same talent Sedaris displays in his writing: the ability to transform what others might discard as trivial—whether a stray comment overheard on the subway or a luggage tag pulled from the garbage—into something humorous or arresting. And the diaries offer more than just insight into Sedaris’s work—they serve as proof that writing, or visual art, or even just keeping a diary, revolves around paying attention and finding that anything, no matter how small, is fair game for inspiration.