#LitBeat: A Wild Night with Sugar & The Rumpus
Despite having bought advance tickets for A Wild Night with Sugar & The Rumpus, on Monday March 26th attendees began to queue up on Crosby Street an hour before doors opened.
If you’re familiar with Cheryl Strayed and her writing, our adolescent eagerness will not surprise.
After checking in, guests encountered a gleeful Isaac Fitzgerald, managing editor of The Rumpus, hawking mugs emblazoned with either “Write Like A Motherfucker” or “Be Brave Enough to Break Your Own Heart”—just two gems of counsel that Strayed has spawned in over three years of writing the (previously anonymous) Dear Sugar advice column. Strayed’s new memoir, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, and books from the nights other readers covered several more tables. Nubby red raffle tickets promised possible prizes, the most covetable being an advice session with Strayed.
The crowd, that lit-scene mix of beautiful and nerdy, clamored for seats and ogled each other for the half hour between doors and show time. I bought a “Write Like a Motherfucker” mug and promptly poured my Sixpoint Sweet Action into it. The Housing Works Bookstore Director of Public Programming, Amanda Bullock, greeted me and my friend with high-fives, exemplifying the evening’s exuberance. When she later announced to the audience that, since Housing Works’ profits support those living with or affected by HIV/AIDS every beer is a good deed, everyone whooped, giddy and already a few good deeds deep.
Dayna Kurtz began the event with three husky songs, including one that chorused, “Please, mama, let me come home.” The song resonated stiringly, in part because Strayed so often grapples with her mother’s death; an event that led to aimlessness, turmoil, a 1,100 mile hike on the Pacific Crest Trail, and, seventeen years later, Wild.
I can only call what followed worship. Rachel Syme, writer and editor, hosted the evening and read, exquisitely, Dear Sugar Column #64: Tiny Beautiful Things. When she got to, “…a little girl will get on the bus holding the strings of two purple balloons. She’ll offer you one of the balloons, but you won’t take it because you believe you no longer have a right to such tiny beautiful things. You’re wrong. You do,” I threw down my head, overwhelmed by the kind of full-body wrenching, what-it-means-to-be-human, ebullient emotion that Strayed’s writing produces. I reached for a tissue.
Many literary notables came to read—from award-winning chef and author Gabrielle Hamilton to David Gutowski, (AKA Largehearted Boy)—but everyone, readers included, bowed to the altar of Sugar. When authors Elyssa East and Aryn Kyle took the stage to read their condensed “Best of Sugar” compilation, they echoed Syme’s earlier assertion that Sugar’s advice is like gospel:
Elyssa East: “Welcome to the Church of Sugar, y’all.”
Aryn Kyle: “Praise.”
After ten readings, with the evening running long but no one caring, Stephen Elliott, Editor-in-Chief of The Rumpus, hurtled on stage to introduce Strayed, though she hardly needed one. We were all there because of some Dear Sugar line that found us and reminded us that “compassion isn’t about solutions. It’s about giving all the love you’ve got” or that “Nobody will protect you from your suffering”.
We welcomed Strayed to the stage with an uproar, and, like a celebrity treading a red carpet somewhere, she raised her hand in humble greeting. But Strayed is more than some Hollywood star: she described herself as Glenda the Good Witch of modern society—with her advice, she has only alerted Dorothy, alerted us, that we have always held the power to go home. It’s ours to have.
Strayed read a chapter of Wild, which promises resilience and blunt honesty in admitting there are no answers—an attitude that made the crowd explode with gratitude for the author. It was just like Sugar said: “In the end, we clutched each other and shouted our love.”
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