Mike Sager (born 1956) is a bestselling author and award-winning journalist. He has been called "the Beat poet of American journalism, that rare reporter who can make literature out of shabby reality." For more than fifteen years he has been a Writer-at-Large for Esquire. In 2010 he won the American Society of Magazine Editors' National Magazine award for profile writing for his story "The Man Who Never Was," which appeared in Esquire.
A former Washington Post staff writer and Rolling Stone contributing editor, Sager has made a career chronicling the dark underbelly of the American scene and psyche. His first collection, Scary Monsters and Super Freaks, (2003), was a Los Angeles Times bestseller, as was his second, Revenge of the Donut Boys, published in 2007. His first novel, Deviant Behavior, was published by Grove/Atlantic's Black Cat in April 2008. A third collection, Wounded Warriors, was published in October 2008 and received the Military Writers Society of America Founder's Award and the American Author's Association Golden Quill Award. Tattoos & Tequila: To Hell and Back with One of Rock's Most Notorious Frontmen, with Vince Neil, published in September 2010, was a New York Times best seller. His fourth collection, The Someone You're Not, was published by The Sager Group in October 2012, as was Next Wave: America's New Generation of Great Literary Journalists, edited with Walt Harrington. His second novel, High Tolerance, was published by The Sager Group in May 2013.
Sager was born in Charlottesville, Virginia, on August 17, 1956, to Beverly Rosenberg and Marvin Miles Sager—who hailed, respectively, from Culpeper and Fredericksburg, Virginia. Eventually the family, along with younger sister Wendy, would settle in Baltimore, Maryland. Mike graduated from Pikesville High School in 1974. At Emory University he played varsity soccer; served as president of his fraternity, Tau Epsilon Phi; was selected to Phi Beta Kappa; and was an editor of several school publications, including the college's literary magazine and weekly newspaper, The Emory Wheel,'' where he served under Henry Schuster, a lifelong friend who would go on to become an award-winning producer at CNN and CBS 60 Minutes
During his senior year at Emory, Sager studied creative writing with the noted author and jazz historian Albert Murray, who would have a profound influence on his writing style, introducing the notions of rhythm and music in the context of prose. That year he also interned at the alternative weekly Creative Loafing, his first taste of professional journalism. He received his BA in history in June 1978.
After failing the spelling and typing tests administered by the human resources department of the Washington Post, Sager managed to land a lesser position as a copy boy on the graveyard shift,7 p.m. until 3 a.m.. Eleven months later, working in his off-hours as a freelancer, Sager broke an investigative story about abuses at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, his first front page article at the Post. That evening, he was called into the glass office of then-Metro Editor Bob Woodward and promoted to staff writer.
Over the next five years, under the supervision of publisher Donald Graham, who had taken an interest in Sager as he worked his way up from copy boy to reporter, Sager moved though the ranks from night police, to cops and courts, to night rewrite, to general assignment, most of that time under Graham’s Harvard roommate, City Editor Herb Denton. Along the way, Sager would be assigned to work with newly arrived editor Walt Harrington, who asked him, upon their first meeting, “Have you ever read Tom Wolfe?” The epiphany of reading Wolfe’s primer, The New Journalism, would follow shortly thereafter. (Harrington would go on to author several books, including Intimate Journalism used as a primer in universities nationwide. He retired in 2011 as Dean, College of Media, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.) In time, Sager became a roving feature writer, charged with covering rural Virginia, a role he would later liken to that of a foreign correspondent.
In the fall of 1983, Sager took a leave of absence from the Post to travel around Asia and the Far East, doing journalism and seeing the world. For one story, he spent six weeks in Nepal with a group of doctors and medical students; they trekked to a region that had been settled by Tibetan Buddhist refugees and set up a medical clinic. While in Katmandu, Sager interviewed Birendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev, the King of Nepal, who would be later be gunned down by his own son. Also on that trip, Sager would research his first piece for Rolling Stone, in Thailand, about ex-pat Vietnam veterans. Upon his return, in early 1984, Sager resigned from the Post to pursue a career in magazines.
Magazines and film
For the next several years, Sager wrote for Washingtonian and Regardie’s magazines in Washington. While at Regardie's he wrote a monthly reported column called "Washington Beat." In 1987 he became a Contributing Editor of Rolling Stone; in 1993 he authored a regular column for Stone called "Living in the USA". In late 1993 Sager became a Writer-at-Large for GQ. He went to Esquire in 1997. He has also written for Vibe, Spy, Interview, and Playboy.
Eight of his articles have been optioned for or have inspired Hollywood feature films, including Boogie Nights, starring Mark Wahlberg, Wonderland, starring Val Kilmer, and Veronica Guerin, starring Cate Blanchett. Betrayed by Love, starring Patricia Arquette and Mare Winningham, premiered as a television movie. In 2012 The Marinovich Project, a documentary based on Sager's Esquire article and featuring Sager as a narrator, aired on ESPN.
Over the years, Sager has practiced a form of journalism that some have called “literary anthropology.” For his stories, he has lived with a crack gang in Los Angeles; a 625 pound man in El Monte, CA; teenage pit bull fighters in the Philadelphia barrio; Palestinians in the Gaza Strip; heroin addicts on the Lower East Side; Aryan Nations troopers in Idaho; U.S. Marines at Camp Pendleton; Tupperware saleswomen in suburban Maryland; high school boys in Orange County. Since the late nineties, when he moved to California, he has also done dozens of celebrity profiles, including Jack Nicholson, Robert De Niro, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Kirk Douglas, Julia Child, Ray Charles, Faye Dunaway, Evel Knievel, Roseanne Barr, Alan Arkin, and Rod Steiger. He has been credited with being the pioneer of Esquire's well known feature, "What I've Learned."
Academics and The Sager Group
Sager has read and lectured at many American schools of journalism, including Columbia University, New York University, Northwestern, the University of Missouri, Marquette University, and in many other forums, ranging from the Monarch School for Homeless Children to the Yale Law School. His work is included in three textbooks presently in use in college classrooms. For four years he led a popular writing workshop at the University of California, Irvine, where he was a Pereira Visiting Writer. Currently he is engaged as a faculty mentor with Goucher College's MFA/Creative Nonfiction program. He lives with his son, Miles, in La Jolla, California.
In 2012 The Sager Group was chartered as a consortium of multimedia artists and writers. TSG publishes books; manages musical acts and produces live shows; ministers to artists and provides modest grants; and produces documentary, feature, and web-based films.
- Walt Harrington, Dean, College of Media, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
- Scary Monsters and Super Freaks: Stories of Sex, Drugs, Rock ’n’ Roll, and Murder, (New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press, 2003, ISBN 1-56025-563-3)
- Revenge of the Donut Boys: True Stories of Lust, Fame, Survival and Multiple Personality, (New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press, 2007, ISBN 1-56858-350-8)
- Deviant Behavior: A Novel, (New York: Grove/Atlantic/Black Cat, 2008, ISBN 0-8021-7048-X)
- Wounded Warriors: Those for Whom the War Never Ends, (Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 2008, ISBN 978-0-306-81735-9)
- Tattoos & Tequila: To Hell and Back with One of Rock's Most Notorious Frontmen, with Vince Neil (New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2010, ISBN 978-0-446-54804-5)
- The Someone You're Not: True Stories of Sports, Celebrity, Politics & Pornography, (La Jolla, CA: The Sager Group,2012, ISBN 978-0-9881785-0-2)
- Next Wave: America's New Generation of Great Literary Journalists, edited by Walt Harrington and Mike Sager, (La Jolla, CA: The Sager Group,2012, ISBN 978-0-9881785-1-9)
- High Tolerance: A Novel of Sex, Race, Celebrity, Murder . . . and Marijuana, (La Jolla, CA: The Sager Group, 2013, ISBN 978-0-9881785-6-4)