You might know Cheryl Strayed as the author of Wild, this year's Eat, Pray, Love. Recently, she was revealed as the anonymous sage behind the wildly popular "Dear Sugar" advice column on the literary website The Rumpus. So far, Strayed's uncompromising but loving advice to stutterers, suicidal moms, and others has more than 2 million page views. This month, Tiny Beautiful Things, a collection of her columns, hits shelves.
You once wrote, "Technically, I'm totally unqualified for this gig." What did you mean?
My concept of an advice giver had been a therapist or a know-it-all, and then I realized nobody listens to the know-it-alls. You turn to the people you know, the friend who has been in the thick of it or messed up — and I'm that person for sure.
What has surprised you?
I thought this would be a way for me to be snarky and funny, but I became profoundly, emotionally engaged with the work.
You've revealed your own experiences with drug use, infidelity, sexual abuse. Is it hard to be so open?
Why bother if you're not going to be vulnerable? I've written things that people could be judgmental about, and I've received maybe five [nasty] e-mails and thousands that said, "Thank you."
Do you miss the anonymity?
No, that was hard. Sometimes friends would post a link to my column on Facebook and say, "You have to read it — it reminds me of you." That was difficult because [of my] ego. I could never praise it.
How many letters come in?
I have about 5,000 in my inbox. Often people will write things they've never told anyone. There are more 28-year-old virgins than you would guess. Most want to have sex, but somehow find that "things never go in that direction," or their potential partners are freaked out that they're still virgins. Sex has flowed so naturally in my relationships that I've never had to grapple with [this]. I've put those letters on hold because I'm a bit stumped.