Windy City Media Group Frontpage News


home search facebook twitter join
Gay News Sponsor Windy City Times 2021-03-03



BOOKS Life's a witch in Augusten Burroughs' new memoir
by Tony Peregrin

This article shared 2942 times since Wed Oct 30, 2019
facebook twitter pin it google +1 reddit email

After reading Augusten Burroughs' new tome Toil & Trouble some readers might have a "Witch, please?!" reaction to the memoirist's big reveal that he is a practicing witch.

In Toil & Trouble, Burroughs writes about discovering his abilities at age 9 on a bus ride home from school. Staring at the blur of trees flashing by his window, he suddenly became filled with anxiety, followed by a certainty that something terrible had happened to his grandmother. In fact, earlier that day, his "Amah" had been in a car accident, his mother reveals, breaking a rib and puncturing a lung. His ability to "know things he shouldn't have known," is because he is a witch, his mother informs him, a descendant from a long line of witches hailing back to the days of the early U.S. colonies.

It was "simultaneously the most confusing and the most comforting thing anyone had ever said to me," writes Burroughs—the openly gay New York Times best-selling author of Running with Scissors and Lust & Wonder—in the new memoir released Oct 1.

Toil & Trouble—the title references the cauldron speech in Macbeth—is a penetrating and, yes, haunting memoir, illuminating new details about the writer's complicated relationship with his mother, and his journey to understand and harness his unconventional powers. For Burroughs, the craft is less about potions and wands and more about developing a heightened focus to generate desired outcomes—like when he casts a series of spells to nudge his husband ( and longtime literary agent ) Christopher Schelling into buying their dream home in rural Connecticut.

Windy City Times: As an openly gay man, I have always thought members of our community possessed a special ability or power—one that allows us to manifest a better life as a survival technique.

Augusten Burroughs: I actually think that a lot of people probably do have a special power, if you want to call it that. Maybe they're not aware of it, or they might name it something else, a woman's intuition or a sixth sense or a funny feeling. But I think that anybody who is isolated or persecuted as a child or has been told 'Who you are is defective and wrong' absolutely develops a special power. You develop a powerful resiliency. I think it can, if it doesn't break you, it can teach you to trust your own inner voice and that's a powerful thing.

WCT: When your mother sent you to live with her psychiatrist, Dr. Finch, and his outlandishly dysfunctional household ( Running with Scissors )—did you use witchcraft to cope?

AB: I did. It absolutely helped me. It helped me feel less isolated. It helped me to withdraw into myself and it helped me to sense when something awful was about to happen so that I could be prepared or clear out of a way. It helped to the extent that I knew what to ask of it, if that makes any sense.

WCT: Were you hesitant about revealing to the public that you are a witch?

AB: I was never going to write about it. It's so off the table that when journalists would ask me if there was anything about myself about which I wouldn't write—I would always answer "no," truthfully, or so I thought. I'd always said that I'd write about anything—there's nothing that's off the table. Well, except for this thing. I mean, I never, ever told anyone. I mean I just did not talk about it.

My mother made the point very early on that this is the most natural thing in the world, but that people have absolutely no understanding of it and that I'd be a joke if I talked about it.

WCT: I heard you actually destroyed your laptop pounding out the Toil & Trouble manuscript, so this must have been a narrative you were ready to release to the world on some level.

AB: I was working on my novel and it was not going anywhere, and it was absolutely out of the blue that I started writing Toil & Trouble. I mean literally one minute I was working on the novel, not having any fun or it was not working, and then boom, I just started writing it and I wrote fast and furiously without stopping. And we're talking about days, I didn't write this in years, I wrote it in days. My arms were just destroyed, I ruined my laptop keyboard. Gone. Threw it away.

WCT: How did your publisher react to the witchy subject matter?

AB: Jennifer has been my publisher for my whole career. I mean, I've never worked with anybody else. I thought there's a really a good chance that she's going to really be like, "Ah, no." But instead she absolutely loved it, and she loved it more than she loved Running with Scissors, which was her favorite. She just was absolutely insane over it and was, like, "This explains everything about you. Oh my God, this explains everything."

WCT: There are a couple of spells that are included in the book, and I'm wondering if crafting spells comes naturally to you because you are a writer?

AB: They do, yeah, and I love them. I mean, they're not necessary, but I love them and I enjoy writing them.

WCT: Why aren't spells necessary?

AB: Because it's not about the words, it's about the focus. It's about the mind and incredible amounts of energy directed in a very, very singular direction to a very specific outcome without any doubt whatsoever and with no wavering. You've got to be able to visualize something with absolute perfect clarity. It doesn't dissolve and waiver. Spells can be helpful if they help you focus, but that's not where the magic comes from. It doesn't come from the words; it comes from the mind.

WCT: I wish it were possible for you to craft a spell to try and influence the current administration.

AB: I wish. I wish I could. I don't know. I don't really think that I have control over people. What I have experienced is being able to add weight, sort of like adding molecular weight to a decision, or when I'm close to somebody, maybe to reshape some of their thinking about things. But if I could, I would be like Samantha on Bewitched, wrinkle my nose and….

WCT: The world could really use a little Samantha Stephens right about now.

AB: I've had enough horrible things happen to me in my life that I've learned that often some hideous, horrible thing will, in fact, turn out to have been the key that unlocks a door of magnificence. It could be some sort of cultural correction where we have this just insane creature babbling and foaming at the mouth and delusional…it's so dramatic and so dramatically catastrophic that it could have like a bounce effect and result in an incredible turnaround. I mean— people taking stuff for granted, not voting, not thinking about corruption, not caring, not getting involved in any way, that's over. Those days are gone.. People are woke in ways they never even knew they were asleep. And that's a good thing. That's a really good thing.

This article shared 2942 times since Wed Oct 30, 2019
facebook twitter pin it google +1 reddit email

Windy City Media Group does not approve or necessarily agree with the views posted below.
Please do not post letters to the editor here. Please also be civil in your dialogue.
If you need to be mean, just know that the longer you stay on this page, the more you help us.


Gay News

WORLD Court rulings, trans kids' books, activist dies, Naomi Campbell 2021-03-07
- A Chinese court upheld a ruling that a textbook description of homosexuality as "a psychological disorder" was not a factual error but merely an "academic view," according to the South China Morning Post. The Chinese LGBT ...

Gay News

Author Rick Karlin speaks about Chicago memoir and local LGBTQ press 2021-03-04
- Author Rick Karlin was recently interviewed about his 2019 memoir, Paper Cuts, in a online discussion sponsored by Gerber-Hart Library and Archive. Karlin was interviewed by author and historian Owen Keehnen. They opened with a summary ...

Gay News

Author and educator Sarah Chadwick talks new book on female sexuality 2021-02-21
- Sarah Chadwick's debut book, The Sweetness of Venus: A History of the Clitoris, was the result of her desire to understand the status of female sexuality in the West from an historical perspective. During Chadwick's research, ...

Gay News

Pride and Less Prejudice to host panel on LGBTQ media representation March 20 2021-02-21
- On Saturday, March 20, at 1 p.m. CT, Pride and Less Prejudice (PLP)—which provides free, age-appropriate, LGBTQ-inclusive books to pre-K-3rd grade students in order to foster LGBTQ inclusivity and acceptance—will ...

Gay News

NATIONAL Virginia items, Marriott CEO, Black LGBTQ+ icons, trans kids' book 2021-02-21
- Virginia lawmakers are about to roll back a state law that allows faith-based adoption and foster-care agencies to refuse service to LGBTQ families, reported. The legislation has spurred heated ...

Gay News

Writer on AIDS activism in the Black church honored 2021-02-10
--From a press release - The LGBTQ Religious Archives Network (LGBTQ-RAN) honors Dr. Dan Royles with the 2020-21 LGBTQ Religious History Award. The review jury selected Royles' "There Is a Balm in Gilead: AIDS Activism in the Black Church" from among ...

Gay News

Five Worth Finding: LGBTQ authors, paczki, skin-care items, Keto Mylk 2021-02-05
- —Tempest, by Ryan Meyer ( In Tempest, young LGBTQ writer Meyer departs from the horror themes in his 2018 poetry collection, Haunt. Using fictional vignettes and surreal personal accounts, he ...

Gay News

COVID Chicago promotes website that helps users find, book vaccination appointments 2021-02-03
- The city of Chicago is promoting a national website that will allow people to find and schedule COVID-19 vaccination appointments, The Chicago Tribune reported. The site,, is run by an outside provider. It will allow ...

Gay News

BOOKS Ta-Nehisi Coates at Printers Row Lit Fest on Sept. 11-12 2021-02-03
- Printers Row Lit Fest—the largest free outdoor literary showcase in the Midwest—is slated to return for its 36th year with 100% free programming for book lovers Saturday-Sunday, Sept. 11-12, 10 a.m.-6 p.m., in Chicago's historic Printers ...

Gay News

Book helps families with kids discuss gender roles, same gender attraction 2021-01-29
--From a press release - A new book, Pepito Has a Doll, is centered on the experience of a shy young boy who lives with his grandmother. Pepito has only one friend, his doll Lola, until Miguel appears and they begin a joyful adventure together. Bilingual ...

Gay News

Author to hold talk about Chicago LGBTQ press on Feb. 9 2021-01-27
- Rick Karlin—author of Paper Cuts: My Life in Chicago's Volatile LGBTQ Press—will discuss his experiences in the Chicago LGBTQ press as presented in the book on Tuesday, Feb. 9, at 6:30 p.m. via a video conference. ...

Gay News

BOOKS Author examines James Beard's life in 'The Man Who Ate Too Much' 2021-01-24
- Any established person in the food/restaurant industry or true foodie has surely heard of James Beard (1903-85), who many feel revolutionized cuisine in the United States more than any other individual. In The Man Who Ate ...

Gay News

Research shows racial bias denied social reformer Ada S. McKinley her due in history 2021-01-19
--From a press release - (Jan. 19, 2021; Chicago, Ill.) Newly released scholarly research about Chicago social reformer Ada S. McKinley indicates her contributions to Chicago and to the field of human services have been ignored and marginalized due to her ...

Gay News

'Mombian Database' released 2021-01-13
- Mombian columnist Dana Rudolph has released the Mombian Database of LGBTQ Family Books, Media, and More, with more than 500 books, music albums, movies, games and toys for and about LGBTQ families. The site offers multiple ...

Gay News

Five Worth Finding: Workout gear, $2 subs, LGBTQ book 2021-01-11
- 1. Lived Experience: Reflections on LGBTQ Life: "Lived Experience," in this case, refers to 60 LGBTQ people in this country who are older than 50—those who especially have so much to offer. This is a generation ...


Copyright © 2021 Windy City Media Group. All rights reserved.
Reprint by permission only. PDFs for back issues are downloadable from
our online archives. Single copies of back issues in print form are
available for $4 per issue, older than one month for $6 if available,
by check to the mailing address listed below.

Return postage must accompany all manuscripts, drawings, and
photographs submitted if they are to be returned, and no
responsibility may be assumed for unsolicited materials.
All rights to letters, art and photos sent to Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago
Gay and Lesbian News and Feature Publication) will be treated
as unconditionally assigned for publication purposes and as such,
subject to editing and comment. The opinions expressed by the
columnists, cartoonists, letter writers, and commentators are
their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay,
Lesbian, Bisexual and Transegender News and Feature Publication).

The appearance of a name, image or photo of a person or group in
Nightspots (Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times
(a Chicago Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender News and Feature
Publication) does not indicate the sexual orientation of such
individuals or groups. While we encourage readers to support the
advertisers who make this newspaper possible, Nightspots (Chicago
GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay, Lesbian
News and Feature Publication) cannot accept responsibility for
any advertising claims or promotions.








About WCMG      Contact Us      Online Front  Page      Windy City  Times      Nightspots      OUT! Guide     
Identity      BLACKlines      En La Vida      Archives      Advanced Search     
Windy City Queercast      Queercast Archives     
Press  Releases      Join WCMG  Email List      Email Blast      Blogs     
Upcoming Events      Todays Events      Ongoing Events      Bar Guide      Community Groups      In Memoriam      Outguide Categories      Outguide Advertisers      Search Outguide      Travel      Dining Out      Privacy Policy     

Windy City Media Group publishes Windy City Times,
The Bi-Weekly Voice of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Trans Community.
5315 N. Clark St. #192, Chicago, IL 60640-2113 • PH (773) 871-7610 • FAX (773) 871-7609.