Cheryl Strayed will kick off Sundance Authors Series
Since 2002, the Sundance Resort has presented its authors series that included presentations by writers Terry Tempest Williams, Kathryn Stockett, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and former President Jimmy Carder.
The goal for the series is to feature authors whose books "reflect the spirit of independent thought and vision that Sundance embodies," according to its mission.
This year, the series kicks off on Saturday, Feb. 23, with New York Times best-selling author Cheryl Strayed, who wrote the memoir, "Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Coast Trail," and will continue on March 9 with "Where’d You Go Bernadette" by author Maria Semple.
The other writers scheduled include "It’s Even Worse Than It Looks" author Norman Ornstein on March 23, and "Cronkite" writer Douglass Brinkley, on May 18.
Tickets for each session are $75, which includes brunch and a book signing. Tickets can be purchased by calling (866) 734-4428 or by visiting http://www.sundanceresort.com .
Strayed is looking forward to opening this year’s series.
"I got an email out of the blue that said, ‘Robert Redford really liked ‘Wild,’ which is a wonderful email to see," Strayed said during a phone interview from her home in Portland, Ore. "It asked if I would like to speak at the author’s series at the Sundance Resort and I had to think about it for half a second, before replying, ‘Yes.’"
The email also had a deeper meaning for Strayed, because her late mother really liked him.
"I grew up watching with Robert Redford and he was my mother’s favorite actor," Strayed said. "In fact, the first thing I thought when I got the email was, ‘My mom would just die, if she weren’t already dead,’ which is a strange thing to say."
Still, the death was one of the things that helped Strayed write her first novel "Torch," which was published in 2006, and was the launching pad for her to write her first nonfiction book "Wild," which was published last year.
Teresa, one of the characters in "Torch," is based on Strayed’s mother.
"I was pretty deep into ‘Torch’ in the summer of 1997, when I woke up and realized with a start that I was forgetting who my actual mother was," Strayed said. "Teresa wasn’t my mom. She was all these things that my mother wasn’t, but her essence and heart of the character was my mom. So, I decided to spend the day writing about the true story of my mother’s death.
"I wrote for hours upon hours and wove the story of her death into a story about my coming to Portland three years after she died and meeting a guy and doing heroin," Strayed said.
The story became Strayed’s first essay, creatively titled "Heroin/e."
"It was about my mom being my heroine and also the drug heroin," she said.
Strayed published the essay and it was selected for "Best American Essays."
"I was shocked, but a year later, I wrote another essay and that was also published," she said. "That’s when I started to think I could move between fiction and nonfiction."
After reading her essays, Strayed’s friends and family suggested that she should write a memoir.
Although she didn’t think she could, she started another essay that would eventually become "Wild," which documents her time hiking the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State alone.
In the book, she examines her life, her failed marriage and her mother’s death, things that did keep her up at night weeks before the book was published.
"It was terrifying for me, but I think you have to write, especially when it comes to nonfiction, as if nobody’s going to read it, or you’ll never get anything published," she said. "I wrote this book and put everything into it and then I found myself cursing myself for writing a memoir."
Since she had published those personal essays prior to writing "Wild," Strayed eventually calmed down.
"Because the essays were all intimately emotionally wrought, I was familiar with exposing myself and being vulnerable on the page," she said. "It was like a muscle I worked out before jumping into a cold pool of water, and I knew where to draw the lines about what to write.
"I learned not to write out a confession for confession’s sake, but to move the story along," she said. "It’s always hard to write about other people. And in a memoir, you’re not objective, but forced to write what you think subjectively and honestly."
However, since the book was published last year, she hasn’t had any complaints from the people who are in the book.
"Even my ex-husband wrote and thanked me for how I handled our marriage in the book," she said. "I wrote the truth, but was careful about telling what I needed to tell."
"Wild" became a New York Times best seller and was selected the first book selected by Oprah Winfrey for her book club 2.0.
When Strayed speaks at the Sundance Resort, she will talk mostly about "Wild.
"I’m going to relay the back story of ‘Wild’ and read a couple of short excerpts and tell the story behind the story," she said.
Strayed may also touch on her other nonfiction book, "Tiny Beautiful Things," which is a compilation of her "Dear Sugar" column on http://www.rumpus.net .
"These two books came out the same year and they are interrelated," Strayed explained. "I wrote ‘Wild’ while I was developing a following with the ‘Sugar’ columns."
With three books in print and another that is being organized in her mind, Strayed is living her dream as a writer.
"I have loved books as far back as I can remember," she said. "I think my first epiphany I had about writing happened when I read this book that had watercolor paintings of flowers and butterflies.
"Each picture came with a short poem that described the beauty of these natural things," she said. "I was amazed at how a writer could stir up the feelings I had with words, and as soon as I could write, I would write little poems and stories and tried to create feelings with words."
While she considers herself more of a fiction writer, Strayed always felt there were similarities between that and creative non-fiction.
"In one you’re writing what really happened and in the other you can used what happened, but go with the realm of imagination," she said. "But with each, I try to tell a story that people will feel a connection to and see themselves in, as well as feel moved and entertained by."
New York Times best-selling author Cheryl Strayed will open this year’s Sundance Resort Authors Series on Saturday, Feb. 23 in the Redford Conference Center at the Sundance Resort. Tickets are $75 per person and include brunch, author presentation, Q & A, and book signing. Price includes tax and gratuity. Alcohol not included. Tickets are non-refundable. To purchase tickets, click on the links below, or call 866.734.4428. Doors open at 11:30 a.m.
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The recognition left Jewish Family Service Executive Director Ellen Silver speechless, which she joked “doesn’t happen very often.”