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NewsAug 11, 2021

Cindy House ’17 on David Sedaris, kicking heroin and why she wants to send 'everybody a cupcake’

MFA alumna prepares for publication of debut book

Cindy House and David Sedaris in a top hat
Cindy House ’17 and David Sedaris while on tour. Image courtesy: Adam Troy Epstein

By Georgia Sparling

Cindy House ’17 credits best-selling essayist and humorist David Sedaris with saving her life.

House, a graduate of our MFA in Creative Writing program, now opens shows for Sedaris and will publish her own book of essays with Simon and Schuster in 2022. She says her famous friend “always kept a space open for me. He never really gave up on me.”

It took House years to get where she is today. While studying at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, she took a writing class with Sedaris. Afterwards, she began to write almost exclusively until, with only one course left to graduate, she “sort of derailed the rest of my 20s” with a heroin addiction sparked by clinical depression.

Despite this dark period, Sedaris kept in contact.

“I really lost a chunk of my life,” she says. “When you are that sick, in and out of hospitals, and you disappear for seven years, most people just write you off. He never did. He never expected that I would fail even when I was clearly failing life.”

House describes their friendship as a rope that tethered her to the life she wanted for herself. When she got well, “it was clear that writing was where I wanted to put my energy.”

A ‘new level of healing’

Sedaris encouraged her to pursue her MFA. Now a mother and homeschool teacher, House chose Lesley’s low-residency program, which allowed her to travel the relatively short distance from New Haven, Connecticut, to Cambridge a few times a year without uprooting her young family. Then-director Professor Stephen Cramer granted her a waiver for her unfinished bachelor’s degree.

“I had so much shame for not graduating and the reason why I didn’t graduate,” House says. “It was like he took a magic wand and wished away my shame. I think it started a whole new level of healing.”

Cindy House selfie
Cindy House takes a selfie before opening for David Sedaris.

House matriculated in 2015 with a focus on fiction, but an independent study in nonfiction writing prompted her to pen her first essay, a piece on Sedaris’s impact on her life. Soon after, Sedaris, who regularly tours to sold out audiences, asked her to open a few shows for him. Over the years, she’d seen him perform often, sometimes with thousands of people in the crowd, all of them expecting to laugh.

“I was never a funny writer,” says the self-proclaimed introvert. “I thought, ‘I’ll probably do it once and bomb and that will be the end of that.’”

Her writing up to that point had been serious, centered on her experiences with addiction. But when people laughed at the stories she’d written for Sedaris’ shows, it was amazing.

“I feel like sending everybody a cupcake (to say) thanks for laughing,” says House. Sedaris asked her to do more shows. She performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., Symphony Hall in Boston, and 16 other locations before the pandemic hit.

Making some noise

For one New York engagement, Sedaris nudged House a little harder than usual to open for him. Unbeknownst to her, he’d invited his editor from Little Brown to attend.

“He didn’t want to hand me something. He wanted me to earn it,” says House.

The editor asked to read more of her work, and over tea, advised House, “Get an agent. This is definitely going to happen for you.” Within the month, House had an agent and soon four publishing houses bidding on her book, “Mother Noise,” which is due on shelves next May.

Some of her on-stage essays will appear in the book, but most of them are more serious and discuss addiction and motherhood.

Cindy House reads an essay at a podium
“I feel like sending everybody a cupcake (to say) thanks for laughing,” says House.

“This is not the book I ever imagined would be my first book,” says House. “When I started grad school, I was pretty tight-lipped about my past and my history. I didn’t have plans to out myself and then I couldn’t stop writing about it.”

Lesley encouraged her not to hold back. “If the thing is screaming, ‘You really need to write me,’ you just have to go with it. It’s kind of a relief,” she says. “It’s not healthy to feel like there’s a piece of you that nobody should see.”

Still, she says it’s terrifying to know that her story will be available for anyone to read, and she has no plans to read reviews of the book.

In the meantime, House is scheduled to open for Sedaris at eight more shows this fall with more in the spring.