Alumnus Finds Sobriety and New Life as a Writer

Seamus Kirst G'15

On the heels of an alcohol fueled near-death experience, Seamus Kirst made a decision to pursue a career in journalism. With the help of a master’s degree from Syracuse University, he has rewritten his story by acknowledging the past.

Portrait of Seamus Kirst

“Brutally, uncomfortably, blessedly honest.” That’s how one of the Amazon reviews for Seamus Kirst’s 2017 memoir “Sh*tfaced: Musings of a Former Drunk,” describes it. In fact, the word “honest” comes up in almost all of the reviews, which are overwhelmingly positive. Kirst wrote the book shortly after completing a master’s degree in arts journalism at Syracuse University. Now a podcaster and freelance writer for publications like The Washington Post, Vice, The Guardian, and Teen Vogue, Kirst is awaiting the publication of his second book, a children’s tale about LGBT families.

As a child growing up in Syracuse, Kirst was secretive about his preference for “girl toys” like dolls in elementary school. As he grew older, confused by the emerging sexuality that set him apart from his peers, he tried to deepen his voice and alter his gait to appear more masculine.

Red Flags and Achievements

When he was in high school, Kirst coped with his anxiety by using alcohol as an escape. One night, he nearly froze to death while passed out in the snow.

By the time Kirst finished high school, he had been hospitalized for alcohol poisoning three times, spent a month in rehab, and attempted suicide. He still graduated as the valedictorian of his class and was accepted to an Ivy League college, where he maintained a respectable GPA while struggling with substance abuse.

After graduating from Brown University in 2013 with a bachelor’s degree in history and ethnic studies, Kirst moved to New York City with plans of becoming a human rights lawyer. He worked for a nonprofit focused on prison reform, helping recent inmates find jobs as they reentered society.

A near-death experience during an alcohol-fueled blackout made him finally say enough.

Writing Through Recovery

He quit drinking, and for the first time, remained sober. Then he started writing blog posts about his personal journey through alcoholism, addiction, and self destruction. Kirst discovered that writing was cathartic as well as challenging, and began to rethink his long-term career plan. “Half of me wanted to go into law, and the other half was more interested in a career in entertainment journalism,” he remembers. He applied to the Goldring Arts Journalism program at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, and was accepted.

“That same week I got a job offer to be a paralegal at the Federal Defenders of New York,” he says, knowing he was facing a life choice that might send him in an entirely new direction.

He chose Syracuse University.

Forging a New Path

“It was a tough decision,” he says, “but Syracuse really helped me find and hone my writing voice. I was thrown into the deep end and I learned so much about journalism–how to pitch stories, how to get interviews, and how to ask the right questions. I also learned about video and audio editing, which are useful skills to have in this age of multimedia journalism,” he adds.

 “I worked really closely with my professors, who were tough in the best way,” Kirst recalls. “They gave straightforward critiques, and now that I work in journalism I realize that their feedback was similar to what an editor would provide. Having thick skin in this industry is a necessity, and their honesty made it all the more exciting when you earned their praise.”

Kirst found a surfeit of support and encouragement at Syracuse University. “I loved my classmates, and many have helped me find freelance gigs post-graduation,” Kirst says. “The Newhouse Network is truly incomparable–they are everywhere, and many are very successful. It’s been amazing to see how receptive they are to fellow Newhouse alums who reach out for help or advice.”

Telling His Story

The skills he learned at Syracuse University helped him explore the depths of his experience with addiction and articulate the horrors he’d somehow survived. When a blog post about his decision to quit drinking went viral, it inspired Kirst to begin his full-length memoir and share his story of coming-of-age as a gay man and alcoholic. His father, former Syracuse Post-Standard columnist Sean Kirst, wrote a moving foreword for his son’s book, describing his own struggles with alcohol and the devastation of witnessing his son’s battle.

Kirst’s newest venture is due out in June of 2020. “It’s about a little girl who has two dads and what it really means to be a family,” he says. “Trying to tell an evocative, memorable story in 500 words is hard, but I loved reading when I was little. It’s so exciting that kids–and even my own children one day–will read something I wrote."

Mary Beth Horsington

This story was published on .


Also of Interest

  • The LGBT Resource Center

    Diversity is something we not only foster, but celebrate. At Syracuse University, we learn from and lean on each other.

  • Newhouse Majors & Minors

    Long recognized as one of the elite schools of mass communication, Newhouse programs are rooted in the liberal arts while you learn how to manage and produce for the mass media and other areas of public communications.