It seems everyone I encounter in literary circles has had a Cheryl Strayed moment, a moment in which something Strayed has written, as the author of Wild or as The Rumpus’ dispenser of hard truths – “Dear Sugar,” has deeply resonated. For me, it would have to be this “Dear Sugar” response:

“Writing is hard for every last one of us—straight white men included. Coal mining is harder. Do you think miners stand around all day talking about how hard it is to mine for coal? They do not. They simply dig. You need to do the same. … So write, Elissa Bassist. Not like a girl. Not like a boy. Write like a motherfucker.”

It’s a quote I’d passed along to my creative nonfiction students one semester with my demure modification, “write like a mother fudgsicle.” But that’s what poises Strayed’s work for maximum impact. She doesn’t modify or shy away. She tells it like it is.  And Strayed’s circle of influence is rapidly widening as a result.

Cheryl Strayed and my husband Lars met when she wandered by the open window of our vacation rental in Sayulita, Mexico with her laptop open, looking desperately for a WiFi signal. She and Lars briefly bonded over their mutual and depressing need to be wired in paradise, and Lars pointed her toward a coconut palm that had the most reliable signal.

Why she needed connectivity in paradise was to communicate with her editors about the first draft of WILD, which she had delivered the day before her family left on this celebratory trip to Mexico.

Dear Sugar, 

I read your column religiously. I’m twenty-two. From what I can tell by your writing, you’re in your early forties. My question is short and sweet: What would you tell your twentysomething self if you could talk to her now?                                                                                                              

Love,

Seeking Wisdom 

Writers are by definition obsessed with words. And when it comes down to it, unless you’re really plucky, there are two or three words you’re stuck with for life: your name. Every other week we’ll ask a different writer five or so questions on the subject.

This week we talk to Cheryl Strayed, the New York Times bestselling author of the memoir Wild (Alfred A. Knopf), the advice essay collection Tiny Beautiful Things (Vintage Books), and the novel Torch (Houghton Mifflin). Strayed has written the “Dear Sugar” column on TheRumpus.net since March 2010, and she’s a founding member of VIDA: Women In Literary Arts, and serves on its board of directors. Raised in Minnesota, Strayed now lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband, the filmmaker Brian Lindstrom, and their two children.