Chery Strayed is the author of the #1 New York Times bestselling memoir Wild, as well as the advice essay collection Tiny Beautiful Things and the novel Torch. “Her books have been translated into more than thirty languages around the world. Wild was chosen by Oprah Winfrey as her first selection for Oprah’s Book Club 2.0. The movie adaptation of Wild was released in 2014…Strayed’s essays have been published in The Best American Essays, the New York Times Magazine, the Washington Post Magazine, Vogue, Salon, The Missouri Review, The Sun, Tin House, Glamour, and other magazines. She is also a regular columnist for the New York Time Book Review. Strayed is the co-host, along with Steve Almond, of the WBUR podcast Dear Sugar Radio, which originated with her popular Dear Sugar advice column on The Rumpus. Strayed holds an MFA in fiction writing from Syracuse University and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Minnesota. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband the filmmaker Brian Lindstrom and their two children.” Find out more about the author and her work: http://www.cherylstrayed.com/
Author Cheryl Strayed is coming to Fort Collins Thursday April 2nd, and will be reading 7:30 pm – 9:00 pm in the Hilton Hotel Ballroom. The event is free and open to the public; seating is on a first come first served basis; NO ticket required.
Due to time constraints and the large audience expected, she will not be signing books, but pre-signed copies of Wild will be available for purchase.
Cheryl Strayed is a master of the opening line. She doesn’t hesitate, but rather drops you directly into the dead center of the story. In her essay “The Love of My Life,” she starts with “The first time I cheated on my husband, my mother had been dead for exactly one week.” In her piece “Heroin/e” she begins with “When my mother died, I stripped her naked.” Her novel Torch begins simply “She ached.”
My husband first brought home a hardback copy of Cheryl Strayed’s Wild from the “Here & Now” collection at the library a few months after it was released. He loves stories of climbing Mount Everest or sailing around the world alone, so a book about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail seemed like something he’d want to read. But it’s not really a book so much about hiking as it is a story about, as Cheryl says, “learning how to bear the unbearable,” a story about acceptance, her journey from lost to found. He really wanted to read about hiking the PCT so lost interest, didn’t finish the book, handing it to me one day saying, “It seems like the kind of book you’d like.”
I love memoir – coming of age stories, stories about finding oneself, narratives about becoming, about coming undone, about catalyst and transformation and salvation, about what it means to be human. These are my favorite kinds of books, the journey from lost to found. And my favorite ones are written by women who aren’t afraid to tell the truth, even when it doesn’t make them look good, who talk candidly and elegantly about the brilliance and the mess.
So Wild is exactly the kind of book I’d read, but I hadn’t read it yet. It was too popular. When that happens with a book, I find myself avoiding it. It’s something about being an introvert. When everyone is reading and talking about it, it feels too crowded somehow. I want my experience of it to be private. I want to be alone with it, so I wait until things quiet down. But my husband had already checked out the book, and the “Here & Now” collection is limited to seven days so I started to read. Once I did, I could barely stand to put it down.
I confess, at first I was irritated by Cheryl’s story. The deeper she dug herself into the hole she was in, the more my discomfort grew. By the time her story got to [spoiler alert!] her decision to have an abortion, I wanted to stop reading. I couldn’t stand to witness it — the self-destruction, the suffering she was generating on top of what she’d already experienced. And yet, this was a book that I just couldn’t stop reading. I couldn’t help myself. I had to stay with it, had to “keep walking” right along with her until the end, no matter how painful.
Having lost so much to cancer myself made some parts of this book especially difficult to read. Many times I had to pause because I could no longer make out the words through my tears. This is the impact much of her written work has on me. I’ve given away 20+ copies of her book Tiny Beautiful Things in the past few years, always with the warning “don’t read this in public if you are uncomfortable letting people see you cry.”
One night when I was getting toward the end of Wild, I was reading in bed and my husband, who sometimes can’t sleep with the light from my book lamp, asked “can you be almost done?” I did something I never do: I got up and went out into the living room so I could keep reading. I had to finish. The memory is still fresh of being alone in the living room, sitting in the gold chair in the corner wrapped in a blanket, finishing the story, closing the book, and sobbing. That weird and wonderful mix of wishing so hard that none of those awful things ever had to happen to her, to any of us, but also wishing they’d happened to me so I’d have that story to tell.
Cheryl Strayed does not shy away from the truth. She tells the whole story, even the parts that might make her look bad. And yet, she doesn’t add things for the sake of drama. Telling readers about her heroin use isn’t done to shock, or to make the story more exciting, it’s there because it’s essential to the narrative — tender and terrible, beautiful and brutal. And when she’s telling the truth, she does it with an elegance that presents the truth in its full measure, all its brilliance and all its mess. She says things like “Healing is a small and ordinary and very burnt thing. And it’s one thing and one thing only: it’s doing what you have to do,” (in her essay “Heroin/e”). I confess that the library copy of Wild I read was returned with corners of pages bent down, a sign of my need to mark the shiny places, the burnt places.
In the introduction to Tiny Beautiful Things, Steve Almond says, “With great patience, and eloquence, she assures her readers that within the chaos of our shame and disappointment and rage there is meaning, and within that meaning is the possibility of rescue.” He’s talking specifically about what Cheryl did in that particular book, but I’d argue that’s what she does in everything she writes.
Last September, Cheryl gave a reading at the Lincoln Center in Fort Collins, and I was lucky enough to attend, got to meet and spend some time with her before she took the stage. She is more genuine, more vibrant and friendly in person than I could have hoped. I was so nervous when it was my turn to have her sign my book, but she smiled and held out her hand, said “Hi, I’m Cheryl.” It wasn’t that she thought I wouldn’t know, but rather a true offering of connection, grounded and kind — genuine.
One of the first things Cheryl said when she took the stage was, “I love when people gather together in a room and listen to an author talk about books — especially when that author is me.” The audience that night was relatively small, with all of us clustered towards the front of the theater. It made for a much more intimate, cozy event, more like we were sitting around someone’s living room than a large concert hall. Throughout the night, she kept saying that she was telling us things she hadn’t before, much more than she’d revealed at other events, and with a smile swore us to secrecy. She also said at one point that “If I had known that many people would read the book, [Wild], I wouldn’t have written half that sh*#.” Cheryl Strayed is one of the best sorts of people — smart and funny and compassionate and honest and humble, even after they are met with success.
Cheryl talked about how when she was six years old, when she learned to read, she felt called to be a writer. She added later that even so, “most of us who want to be writers resist writing.” Cheryl talked about suffering, which she defined as resisting what is true, saying that “to surrender and accept what is true is a radical thing.” She spoke about how the power of literature is to “build a bridge between my experience and yours, the human experience,” and that it took so long to write about hiking the PCT Trail because she first had to figure out what her story might mean to a reader, to figure out how to tell a story that was bigger than just her own personal experience, and that when she did, “I was writing about you from my vantage point, telling you a story about you too.”
Hearing Cheryl talk about her life as a writer, listening to her tell her story and talk about her perspective on memoir was inspiring. Please do join us for her upcoming reading on April 2nd, 7:30 pm in the Hilton Hotel Ballroom.
The Creative Writing Reading Series at CSU is organized by English Department faculty and the Organization of Graduate Student Writers (OGSW); Creative Writing faculty serve on a rotating basis as director of the series and faculty advisor to OGSW. The series has an annual budget of only $1,200 and relies on the support of the Associated Students of Colorado State University (ASCSU), the College of Liberal Arts dean’s office, donors, local businesses, and CSU’s English Department. Its spring 2015 events are made possible with support from CSU’s Lilla B. Morgan Memorial Endowment, a premier funder of the arts at CSU.