Last night, The Rumpus (www.therumpus.net), the literary online magazine founded in 2008 by the writer Stephen Elliot (The Adderall Diaries), hosted a party in San Francisco to reveal the identity of its wildly popular advice columnist, “Sugar,” about whom it was only known that he or she was a published author. Portland, Ore.-based writer Cheryl Strayed, the author of Torch (Houghton Mifflin, 2006), and whose memoir of her hike on the Pacific Crest Trail in 1995, Wild, will be released by Knopf in March, was introduced as Sugar before 300 guests at the Verdi Club in the city’s Mission district.
“Dear Sugar” is renowned among its fans for its frank and no-holds-barred advice, peppered with references to literature, as well as with compelling stories from the author’s own life about such subjects as sexual abuse, heroin use, marital infidelity, raising children, and even writer’s block. Her advice to a frustrated writer ("Write like a motherfucker") became a rallying cry for readers of the Rumpus and has inspired mugs and posters with the phrase. Steve Almond (Candyfreak), the first author behind the weekly “Sugar” column, who wrote 26 columns before handing it on to Strayed, who wrote the next 60 columns, introduced her to the crowd at the ticketed event.
In a conversation with PW earlier this week, Strayed insisted that writing an advice column could be construed as an art form.
“I approached it as a storyteller, “ said Strayed, who has been writing “Dear Sugar” for the past two years. “Some of my best writing is in that column.” Strayed insisted that she did not come out as Sugar on Valentine’s Day as a publicity stunt for her memoir, which has already generated much pre-publication buzz, including a profile in PW, or for Strayed’s collection of “Dear Sugar” columns, Tiny Beautiful Things, scheduled to be released by Vintage in July.
“From the beginning, I said I was going to reveal my identity,” Strayed said, explaining that it was a coincidence that Wild is being published next month. “I encourage readers to peel back the layers and reveal the truth and I’m going to do that too. I like the idea of standing before the audience as a real person.”
Strayed is currently on tour for Wild.
The “Dear Sugar” column has generated more than two million views in the last two years.