Author Sarah Lewis will discuss her new book, "The Rise: Creativity, the Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery," when she opens the 2014
Author Sarah Lewis will discuss her new book, "The Rise: Creativity, the Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery," when she opens the 2014 Sundance Author Series on Saturday, May 17. (Photo by Annie Leibovitz, courtesy of Simon & Schuster)
Author Sarah Lewis said the idea for her new book, "The Rise: Creativity, the Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery," stemmed from writing her college application to Harvard when she was 17.

The application's theme was on the Gift of Failure and how failure often spurs success.

"I didn't know I would do anything with it, but I was intrigued by the idea," Lewis told The Park Record during a phone call from her office in New York. "While I was going to college and grad school, I would squirrel away these stories that I heard about the life-arc of people's careers that bore out this truth. And that, in turn, has offered me a kind of roadmap for understanding how to become my fullest self."

Lewis will tell about her discoveries while writing the book when she opens the 12th annual Sundance Mountain Resort Author Series on Saturday, May 17. Doors open at 11:30 a.m. Admission is $75 and will include brunch and a copy of the book.

The author felt the urge to write the book stronger than ever when Lewis worked in the arts after graduating college.

"I curated at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and started writing a lot about contemporary artists," she said. "I found how central the idea of failure is in creativity.

"I was always in artists' studios and saw their practices and processes," Lewis said. "During those times, I noticed that they all had back-turned paintings that they didn't want to discuss, but I knew these were also critical for the things they ended up doing and the ones they wanted to show me."

The writer sent in a proposal and received a contract to write the book for Simon & Schuster four years ago.

Her idea included interviewing athletes, lawyers, artists, Nobel Prize winners and other professionals who have used failure to succeed.

"I was intrigued by the creative, path-breaking endeavor and noticed that many of the different people whom we herald, from a very young age, build their lives and rises on truly uncommon foundations and found advantages from failure," she said.

"Whether it's a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, or Martin Luther King Jr. or author J.K. Rowling, the list of these successful people is endless."

Lewis' Sundance presentation will be about what she learned from these while writing the book.

"There are so many things to discuss, but ultimately the thing I learned was that the very things we think we should avoid are the things that give us irreplaceable advantages that help us reach our goals," she said. "That is to say, so much of achievement and mastery is really counterintuitive. The propulsion that comes from frustration can become more of a motivating force.

"The ability to surrender, quit or give up can be as important as the ability to persevere," Lewis explained. "To become a deliberate amateur can be as important as gaining expertise. I could go on and on, but at every turn, this is what I learned from each individual in the book."

From a young age, Lewis knew she would begin a career that involved writing at some capacity, and she began writing more when she began curating exhibits.

She has written for Art Forum, Art in America, Rizzoli and different publications for the MoMA and the Studio Museum in Harlem. She was also included on Oprah Winfrey's Power List.

Lewis said writing about art helped her develop her skills in communication.

"It's a very difficult thing to put into words, something someone has done in paint, lines or photographs," she said with a laugh. "These things are very esoteric and writing about these things really challenges you to write about communicable ideas, so that challenge tested her mettle and let me see if I had what it took to write. I felt that if I could write about these things, I could write about anything."

Lewis was invited by Sundance Institute founder and president Robert Redford to be one of the authors for the Sundance Author series after moderating a panel about creative failure during the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.

She said being a writer is like being a filmmaker, painter or any other artist.

"You end up producing things that are inside of you that have to come out," she said. "Writing has enabled me to become the person I wanted to be but didn't know that I could become. That growth, staying at my own at my own edge is an incredible gift, and has taught me what it means to really live."

Sundance Mountain Resort will start its 12th annual Author Series with Sarah Lewis on Saturday, May 17, at noon. Tickets are $75 per person. Tickets are non-refundable. To purchase tickets, call 866-734-4428 . Tickets may also be purchased online at sundanceresort.com . For more information about Sarah Lewis, visit sarahelizabethlewis.com.