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David Rakoff’s American Life

August 8, 2017

David Rakoff, a Canadian-born gay writer who was a regular contributor to National Public Radio’s “This American Life” and published three bestselling volumes of essays, died at 47 on this date in 2012. Rakoff’s grandparents fled Latvia and Lithuania for South Africa at the turn of the 20th century; his parents left South Africa in 1961 and moved to Montreal; and he took to the U.S. in 1982 to attend Columbia University, then spent time both in London, at the School of Oriental and African Studies, and in Japan, where he worked as a translator. Rakoff came to NPR after writing a fan letter to Dave Sedaris, who introduced him to Ira Glass, who was just starting up “This American Life.” Rakoff’s books, which he also illustrated, include Fraud (2001) and Don’t Get Too Comfortable (2005), both of which received a Lambda literary award (for gay-themed literature), and Half-Empty (2010), which won the 2011 Thurber Prize for American Humor. Rakoff also did acting work for film and television, and directed David and Amy Sedaris’s Stitches and other off-off-Broadway plays. To see him with Jon Stewart on the Daily Show, look below.

“People are really trying their best. Just like being happy and sad, you will find yourself on both sides of the equation many times over your lifetime, either saying or hearing the wrong thing. Let’s all give each other a pass, shall we?” --David Rakoff