“She came out of nowhere.”

Cheryl Strayed wrote a Facebook post this past week in which she took on the popular claim that she “came out of nowhere” to publish her bestseller Wild. She wrote,

“The most annoying thing to come of this past truly good year is the narrative that I “came out of no where,” that I was “an unknown writer” before WILD was published. Actually, I came out of a literary community of readers and writers who knew me quite well. Before WILD, I’d published a novel as well as many essays that were read by a national audience. I bristle at this narrative not so much on my own behalf, but rather on behalf of the many writers I love, admire, respect and read. There is a strong and vibrant literary culture that exists and thrives in this nation and it does not exist in a place called nowhere, whether you know about it or not. It’s the place where the writers work.”

I’ve been struggling for awhile now to write an essay about what I found so disheartening at times about New York literary culture. It produces and promotes innovative, stunning, ground-breaking writing, but it is not the only literary culture, nor one of two (MFA or NYC) as this n+1 piece would have it, and American literature is so much richer and more dynamic for that. Thanks to Cheryl Strayed for this small bit of myth-busting.

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3 Comments

  • Molly Beer says:

    This is so right! The general reading public is privy to only the very tip of the literary workings in this country. I wanted to throw into the mix another myth that this “out of nowhere” myth perpetuates: this notion of creativity as spontaneous generation, as if art happens to us–a divine event, delivery by stork–rather than being something we make. Writing takes talent, but talent is only the seed. Great writers like Strayed and the hundreds of other working writers whose names don’t ring any bells cultivate and nurture that talent.
    I had my own “out of nowhere” moment when an editor wrote to me that I has “such a natural storyteller.” I know she meant it as a compliment, but it stung and stuck with me. In the remark I heard that, because she’d never heard of me, I couldn’t be a “real” writer, and the fact that I had written something that she wanted to publish was some happy accident, like a monkey who’d reproduced Hamlet. I’m no Cheryl Strayed, but I’m no lucky monkey either. In all her years in the profession of writing, Strayed has climbed the ladder, apprenticing, teaching, writing for free, collaborating with other writers, learning the business side as well as the artistic side of writing, always honing her craft. Not every writer who does the hard work gets a *Wild*, but books like *Wild* are hardly accidents.

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