I was born in 1956 in Mississippi, the oldest of three children to Howard and Nancy Sessums. Our father, an All-American basketball player and coach, was killed in an automobile accident when he was 32 years old. Our mother died the next year at 33 of esophageal cancer. Our maternal grandparents raised us – I was eight, my brother Kim was 6, and our sister Karole, 4 – in a blonde-brick, flat-roofed house on a country road outside a small town called Forest. The house didn’t know enough to call itself modernist back then but I already had enough pretensions that I would have described it as being just such a thing if the term had been in my vocabulary at the time.
Modest little modernist or not, I couldn’t wait to escape the place – not knowing that there was no escaping that from which I longed to escape: grief and loneliness and longing itself – and I graduated from high school a year early to attend Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi. I left there after two years and in 1975 headed to New York City to attend The Juilliard School’s Drama Division. I only stayed there a bit over a semester and took a job as Alan Strang in Equus in a couple of summer stock tours – including one with Tony Perkins – as well as at Trinity Square Rep in Providence, Rhode Island. I appeared on Broadway in the Sherlock Holmes mystery, Crucifer of Blood, and on CBS in an abridged version of the musical adaptation of Truman Capote’s The Grass Harp.
After five years being an actor, I decided to take a job at Time-Life Films and then at Paramount Pictures as the highfalutin factotum to a female pioneer in movie marketing, Buffy Shutt, who would let me sit at my desk and write as long as I got the filing done and kept her phone logs in order. When she left Paramount, I no longer wanted to work in the movie business and got a job at Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine as one of its Senior Editors before being promoted the next year to Executive Editor.
Vanity Fair’s Editor in Chief Tina Brown hired me away from Interview to work with her after she read a Sam Shepard cover story I did for Interview as well as a Playboy interview I had done with Barry Diller. She brought me in to Vanity Fair to be a Contributing Editor but within a couple of months she also appointed me the magazine’s Fanfair Editor. I was at Vanity Fair for fourteen years – also working with its Editor in Chief Graydon Carter – before moving on to be a Contributing Editor at both Allure and Parade magazines. My work has also appeared in Elle, Marie Claire, OUT, The Advocate, Playboy, Travel+Leisure, and San Francisco magazines among other publication and at the online sites thedailybeast.com and towelroad.com. I moved to San Francisco in 2013 to be the founding Editor in Chief of FourTwoNine magazine and moved on to be the Editor at Large at the Curran Theatre.
My Previous Work.
I have written two New York Times bestselling memoirs Mississippi Sissy and I Left It on the Mountain. I am presently adapting the former for the stage and have had one reading of it at New York Theatre Workshop.
My work at Interview not only included that story on Sam Shepard but also Catharine Deneuve, Michael J. Fox, Dennis Quaid, David Mamet, Willem Dafoe, Ethan & Joel Coen, and Yoko Ono. At Vanity Fair I penned over twenty cover stories which included those on Madonna, Cher, Bette Midler, Barbra Streisand, Johnny Depp, Jessica Lange, Tom Hanks, Tom Cruise, Courtney Love, Richard Gere, Emma Thompson, Matthew McConaughey, and Roseanne Barr. At Allure my cover stories included Ellen DeGeneres, Angelina Jolie, Julianne Moore, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Jennifer Aniston. At Parade I did covers on Hugh Jackman, Drew Barrymore, Daniel Craig, and Sarah Jessica Parker, among others. At FourTwoNine I assigned myself these cover stories: Alan Cumming, Jonathan Groff, and Jared Leto. I assigned the straight James Franco to interview the gay James Franco for another cover story there.
Oh … and I also played Peter Cipriani in the first miniseries based on Armistead Maupin’s Dickensian love letter to San Francisco Tales of the City.
And now? Well, here I am actually living in San Francisco playing myself, a less haughty version of Peter Cipriani, I hope. I have written all of this as a way to welcome you to this online magazine. But I think I am welcoming myself here too.
So welcome to us all.