A Brief Glimpse of What is to Come: David Rakoff 1964-2012

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By Ryan O'Grady

I have always felt a kinship with sardonic writers who offer their unique perspective on how to live in this world. I’ve seen David Sedaris speak a few times—he usually visits Baltimore about once a year—and this is one of my favorite quotes from one of his books, Naked:

I haven’t the slightest idea how to change people, but still I keep a long list of prospective candidates just in case I should ever figure it out.

/uploadedImages/www/books_and_media/blog/Pratt_Library_Blog/DavidRakoff_ver.jpgThis post is not about David Sedaris, but it is about someone whose life was inextricably bound to Sedaris’: David Rakoff. A brief history: David was born in Canada to parents who were both doctors; he left home to study in the United States at Columbia University, and subsequently became a permanent resident and then a US citizen, while still maintaining his Canadian citizenship. He wrote a myriad of essays, mostly autobiographical, and some that dealt with his bouts of illness (Hodgkin’s disease and a more recent diagnosis of cancer near his collarbone). He worked in publishing and met David Sedaris through that job, eventually becoming a regular contributor to a popular public radio program alongside Sedaris.

Listen to the podcast of Rakoff's visit to the Pratt Library on Sept 22, 2010.

I’ve always been interested in what I call "nomadic writers"—authors who just can’t seem to sit still for their entire life in one place, and usually aren’t content with simply one genre or avenue of performance. Rakoff wore many hats: essayist, journalist, radio presenter, voice-over artist, film actor, and screenplay writer. One of my favorite pieces by him is called "Christmas Freud" which aired on This American Life, a weekly radio program produced by Chicago Public Media and distributed by Public Radio International (usually it airs on your local NPR station; in Baltimore it airs on WYPR on Saturdays and Sundays).

halfemptyIn fact, This American Life profiled David Rakoff this past weekend on their show. A warning: there is adult language contained in this program.

Rakoff was also a regular (read: yearly) guest on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Here is an excerpt from a late 2010 interview, where he discussed his book of essays Half Empty.

David Rakoff was involved with This American Life early on—during its beginnings—and became fast friends with David Sedaris and Ira Glass, the host of the show. I’m sure Rakoff was not on Sedaris’ list of prospective candidates to change, and should anything be said about Rakoff and his career in general it’s that he was here on this Earth for far too short a time.

As Rakoff himself cynically wrote: "In my brief glimpse of what is to come I realize how little I care to witness it. I have seen the future and I'm fairly relieved to say, it looks nothing like me."

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