While millions may have only got to know Cheryl Strayed in the past year, the best selling author certainly doesn’t consider herself an overnight success.In fact, she became a serious writer early in life.
“I got my start as writer very young, by putting my faith in writing,” said Strayed.
She feels the best way to get started is by jumping in and apprenticing in the craft.
Strayed’s memoir “Wild” spent seven weeks at the top of the New York Times Best Seller List and was chosen as Oprah Winfrey’s first selection when she restarted her book club last year.
Strayed was in Minnesota last week, sharing her story with students, faculty and community members at Rasmussen College in Blaine at the invitation of Campus Director Patty Sagert.
She is also the author of “Tiny Little Things”, a collection of essays she anonymously penned while writing for the advice column “Dear Sugar” on therumpus.net, as well as the novel “Torch.”
Strayed spent her teenage years in rural Aitkin County in Minnesota, living on 40 acres with her mother and stepfather, at times with no running water.
She graduated from McGregor High School, took classes at the University of St. Thomas and eventually finished her degree at the University of Minnesota.
“I always try to measure my success by answering yes to the question, ‘was I really giving everything I had to writing?’” she said.
But Strayed said if she can see a common thread of success between artists and CEO’s, it is that all of their successes are built on failures.
“There is no way you can succeed without having failed,” she said.
And transcending failure, putting one foot in front of the other when things get hard, is at the epicenter of “Wild.”
Strayed said Wild is a story about, “how we bear the unbearable. We all have to do it at some point in our life.”
Her mom died seven weeks after a lung cancer diagnosis when Strayed was in her early 20s.
She said she lost her mother “at an age where it had not ever occurred to me that my mom would die. The story changed and my world ended.”
At first she said she her grief was noble and respectful.
“Then things started to fall apart and I was grieving my mom in a way that was self-destructive,” Strayed said.
She was promiscuous and cheated on her husband. She was doing heroin and working as a waitress.
When she hit bottom a book about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, which runs from Mexico to Canada, caught her eye. Eventually she would hike 1,110 life-changing miles.
That was 1995. It was 2008 before she started writing a book about it.
“At that point I felt like I had a story to tell,” said Strayed. “I didn’t write ‘Wild’ because I took a hike. I wrote ‘Wild’ because I am a writer.”
March 20 when Strayed was in Blaine, it was also the first anniversary of the publication of her best seller.
When an audience member asked what kind of advice she would give to someone heading out on a trek like she did, her easily answer applied to dealing with any difficult situation.
“Don’t quit when it’s miserable,” said Strayed. “Because it is going to be miserable. If you let go every time it gets tough, you never go anywhere.”
Rasmussen College will host a community book club meeting on Thursday, May 16 from 4 to 5 p.m. where participants will discuss “Wild.”
Mandy Moran Froemming is at [email protected]