On April 16 I drove up 41 to Milwuakee to see author Cheryl Strayed:
I was early and strolled around Boswell Book Co. searching out their poetry section, not because I usually buy poetry, but because I wanted to make a purchase at the store, and I already had a copy of the featured author’s book. What I hoped to find was a volume from feminist poet Adrienne Rich who I happened to know is a favorite writer of Cheryl Strayed. Rich had died March 27, so it seemed meaningful to ask Cheryl to sign a copy. Unfortunately their poetry section consisted of a single shelf-unit that had been rolled aside to make room for seating, and they didn’t stock any Adrienne Rich at all. So I bought a magazine. Which I learned later (after opening it) contained a lengthy interview with: Cheryl Strayed.
I had saved myself a seat near the front which turned out to be good. Over a hundred chairs were set up, but more people sat on the floor and stood in the back. Author Cheryl Strayed’s book, Wild, is a memoir about her solo hike on the Pacific Crest Trail when she was 26 and floundering, and it’s a glorious read: moving, and funny, and descriptive, and tense, and suspenseful, and glowing, and triumphant, and real.
I happened to know, because I had looked it up, that it was sitting at Number 6 on the New York Times bestseller list for nonfiction hardcover titles, and her website had announced that film rights to her story had already been purchased (Reese Witherspoon’s company). For an author in her 40s who has spent her adult years as a “starving artist” this is what success looks like.
After a few opening comments about her life and her writing, she read aloud an excerpt: a funny piece in which she is standing along a road in California hoping to pick up a ride back to the trail. She’s a single girl in her 20s, hitchhiking; a vehicle stops, but its occupant only wants to interview her because she looks to him like a female hobo. The audience laughs aloud at her recounting the strange misunderstandings that are preventing her from getting the ride she needs.
The event ended with a signing, and she was kind enough to sign the map page at the front of my copy. It shows California, Oregon, and Washington with a thin dotted line representing her hike: a long tortuous path filled with ups and downs that eventually got her to where she is now.