"I’m curious about what will happen next."
February 15, 2012 11:38 PM   Subscribe

"I always knew that Sugar was Cheryl, and that the anonymity was just a temporary experience, and it wasn’t going to be really who Sugar was in the end. I revealed myself to you. I only withheld one piece of pretty meaningless information: my name. But I showed myself to you." Dear Sugar of The Rumpus is revealed to be author Cheryl Strayed.

In March 2010, a new author took over the stagnant advice column at the Rumpus. The new Sugar slowly gained a following as she revealed bits and pieces of her life. She revealed she had been sexually abused by her grandfather, hinted at past heroin addiction, and wrote about her mother's death and her days as a youth advocate.

Sugar's entry on writing was so popular that it inspired a mug with the inscription "Write like a motherfucker." There is also a poster of various Sugar quotes.

Strayed revealed her identity at a coming out party in San Francisco on Valentine's Day. The New Yorker interviewed her about coming out.

Sugar's unveiling comes is also an opportunity for Strayed, whose book Wild, a memoir about her mother's death and hiking the Pacific Coast Trail, comes out next month. An excerpt is available here. A collection of Sugar's columns will also be released in June.

posted by mokin (17 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
She's going to sell books like a motherfucker and parlay that into daytime tv appearances like a motherfucker; maybe even get her own show like a motherfucker.
posted by Renoroc at 1:31 AM on February 16, 2012 [3 favorites]

The Obliterated Place absolutely killed me. I have never read anything better about grief.
posted by moneyjane at 4:25 AM on February 16, 2012 [18 favorites]

New to me, a great story, a good writer, humor and compassion. Thanks
posted by rmhsinc at 6:06 AM on February 16, 2012

I know a few people had guesses, but I had no idea who Cheryl Strayed even is. I will probably keep an eye out for her memoir now, as I was a fan of Dear Sugar.
posted by jeather at 6:14 AM on February 16, 2012

Oh my god, moneyjane, that piece was...obliterating. I can't think of anything else to say about it. It's heartbreaking in the best and worst way.
posted by Phire at 6:21 AM on February 16, 2012

moneyjane, that is tremendous. thanks for sharing that link. That sort of compassion for someone facing the unimaginable depths is something so rare, and I hope that man found whatever fragment of solace he could in it. Grief is the most isolating of human experiences, because it's so individual, and thus connections made through it are all the more powerful for it.
posted by Kosh at 7:02 AM on February 16, 2012

I've been a fan of Strayed's work since I first read one of her essays, The Love of my Life. She's a brilliant writer and one of the writers whose style and insight inspires my own nonfiction. What's amazing is that this column is, perhaps, her best work.
posted by Modica at 8:02 AM on February 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

Modica, "The Love of My Life" is among my favorite essays of all time. This part in particular guts me:
Jewish tradition states that one is considered a mourner when one of eight people dies: father, mother, sister, brother, husband, wife, son, or daughter. This definition doesn’t fulfill the needs of today’s diverse and far-flung affections; indeed, it probably never did. It leaves out the step-relations, the long-term lovers, the chosen family of a tight circle of friends; and it includes the blood relations we perhaps never honestly loved. But its intentions are true. And, undeniably, for most of us that list of eight does come awfully close. We love and care for oodles of people, but only a few of them, if they died, would make us believe we could not continue to live. Imagine if there were a boat upon which you could put only four people, and everyone else known and beloved to you would then cease to exist. Who would you put on that boat? It would be painful, but how quickly you would decide: You and you and you and you, get in. The rest of you, goodbye.
I'm also a big fan of "Tomcats in Love":
I was living what I now know was the last year of an era in my life that I have witnessed others pass through, sometimes at nineteen, sometimes at forty-one, usually in the middle-to-late twenties. It's neither childhood nor adolescence nor adulthood, but a horrible, glorious, gut-wrenching, soul-searching, hilarious, and painful mash of all three. A phase of life when you're a free agent yet not actually grown-up, still pinned entirely by the weight of all the crazy, sad, sweet, absurd, inexplicable, wondrous, and heartbreaking things that your family and your first love or two did or didn't do. A time in which you're trying desperately to toss it off or make sense of it, and in the course of doing so you either repress it all completely, blow it entirely out of proportion, or both. You do things like get a Celtic tattoo across the upper rim of your ass or constantly wear a beat-up cowboy hat even though your parents were math professors in New York City. Or you develop a wild affinity for bowling or Virgin Mary figurines and claim that you are doing these things not because they are incredibly hip things to do but, rather, because they are an original and fierce expression of the original and fierce person you actually are. It's a time when, in fact, you don't have a clue who you are. Or you do have a clue, you have a whole pile of accumulating clues, but you're lost in that era that I will go ahead and call the wilderness of self, finding your way amidst a lovely mounting shit pile of clues, each of them telling a true story about you. You're in the deep, dark, mythic business of piecing all those clues together while attempting to look like you're merely hanging out and having the time of your life.
I'd never heard of The Rumpus or this column before now, but I'm going to read it all right now.
posted by nicebookrack at 8:14 AM on February 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

I was so thrilled to finally find out who Sugar is! I will definitely try to get a hold of the rest of her writing now. The compassion and honesty with which she writes is so affecting, and I think really creates a sense of strong personal connection with the reader that is rather rare. The Obliterated Place especially gutted me. What a powerful piece of writing, both from the letter writer Living Dead Dad and from Strayed.
posted by yasaman at 9:33 AM on February 16, 2012

Renoroc: Good. Excellent. So what if she sells out? If more people can experience the heart-wrenching soul-growing beauty of Sugar's (excuse me, Strayed's) advice? Good. If more of daytime TV and self-help bookshelves are open mindedness, compassion, and wisdom? Good. If more non-fiction writing can be as moving and as changing as Cheryl Strayed's? Fucking good.

I am so pleased that she finally revealed herself, partially because now I can read pieces like the ones quoted by nicebookrack, but even more so because now she can share herself with a wider audience.
posted by AmandaA at 10:20 AM on February 16, 2012

AmandaA: I think Renoroc might be referencing this Sugar column.
posted by mothershock at 11:17 AM on February 16, 2012

The Obliterated Place absolutely killed me.

Oh god. Shouldn't have read that at work.
posted by lullaby at 11:28 AM on February 16, 2012

Whoa. Great stuff. Thank you for introducing me to it.

There is something about a question and answer forum that allows me to read things I wouldn't normally. Because of a lifetime of Dear Ann Landers, Dear Abby, Dear Miss Manners, Dear Beth (when I was little) I can take or leave what I like from an advice column in a way that I can't when it's presented in an essay or sermon. Advice columns seem unpretentious and conversational. It wouldn't usually occur to me to write in to disagree with an essayist or a preacher regarding his/her sermon, but I don't think twice about emailing Dear Abby to explain what I see as the other side of a story. I mean, I don't much do it, because I'm lazy, but it seems a very reasonable thing to do.

I stopped reading The Sun years ago because it seemed depressed, like the editor was perpetually on the verge of suicide and was TRYING to find things to inspire himself not to pull the trigger, (dark, B&W or sepia pictures of kids on swings, or the lonely balloon- that sort of thing) but I am loving Sugar so much, I might try it again.
posted by small_ruminant at 12:44 PM on February 16, 2012

Mothershock: Oh, yeah, I got the reference. It just struck me as really accusatory ("daytime TV" isn't quite so indie-cool as "write"). If renoroc was just trying to make a reference and not, in fact, accusing her of selling out or somehow being ... less if she attempts to achieve widespread popularity then I apologize.

My point still stands, though, that it is a good thing that more people can read what she writes.
posted by AmandaA at 1:04 PM on February 16, 2012

"Healing is a small and ordinary and very burnt thing. And it’s one thing and one thing only: it’s doing what you have to do."

I'm a sugar fan but just read the article Modica posted above. Wow. That was pretty devastating too. What I love about reading is when I can connect an emotion that felt so private and alone with something someone else has felt.
posted by thankyouforyourconsideration at 2:30 PM on February 16, 2012

For about a year she consistently broke thousands of readers' hearts, every week.

Quite a thing to witness in a writer.
posted by ead at 9:16 PM on February 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Reading Dear Sugar makes me glad to be a human being. The column on deciding whether or not to have children is my favorite, it completely changed my thinking on this and answered something I always thought was unanswerable. I guess that is what I love about Dear Sugar--she actually answers the unanswerable questions of life in a beautiful and compassionate way.

What's kind of blowing my mind right now is that I've met Cheryl Strayed a few times--my sister worked for her here in Portland a few years back, they are still friends. I was always struck by her funny, kind, powerful presence and while it's not hard to reconcile that with Dear Sugar, it's crazy to think I've been one degree of separation from the person who wrote all that.
posted by janerica at 3:09 PM on February 17, 2012

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