David Sedaris and the Truth Police

Publish date:

Hi Writers,
I’ve been keeping up on an ongoing story originating from an article that ran in The New Republic a few weeks ago: “This American Lie” by Alex Heard.

Heard took it upon himself to do a painstaking fact-checking of much of the David Sedaris oeuvre and found that—surprise!—some of what Sedaris writes in his “nonfiction” is exaggerated.

Is there anyone out there who’s read Sedaris and believes the ridiculous, silly vignettes he writes are 100% fact? Where is this all leading? Are humorists, essayists and other storytellers going to have to start printing a disclaimer like this in the front of their books:

Warning: The events and characters contained in this work are based on kernels of truth that have been colored with literary devices such as hyperbole, metaphor and irony in an effort to create an engaging narrative.

I like David Sedaris’ writing and I’m not just trying to defend him here (mostly because he made me mad once by trying to charge us for an interview and I can be very petty that way.) I just think this is a dangerously slippery slope for writers—especially humorists and satirists—with all the self-appointed literary truth cops out there. Am I supposed to start calling Ramsey to fact-check every time Kevin Alexander mentions him in This Writer’s Life?

Can’t a funny story just be a funny story? Does it have to be 100% certifiably true if it's been branded with the "nonfiction" label?

Still mad but I'll get over it soon. And David, if you're out there, I'm willing to give you a second chance.

Keep Writing,