A GLORIOUS FREEDOM | INTERVIEW WITH CHERYL STRAYED

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The glory of growing older is the freedom to be more truly ourselves—with age we gain the liberty to pursue bold new endeavors and worry less about what other people think. In this richly illustrated volume, bestselling author and artist Lisa Congdon explores the power of women over the age of forty who are thriving and living life on their own terms. Profiles, interviews, and essays from women—including Vera Wang, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Julia Child, Cheryl Strayed, and many more—who’ve found creative fulfillment and accomplished great things in the second half of their lives are lavishly illustrated and hand-lettered in Congdon’s signature style. The perfect gift for women of all ages, A Glorious Freedom celebrates extraordinary lives and redefines what it means to gain wisdom and maturity.

The following is an extract from A Glorious Freedom by Lisa Congdon.


Cheryl’s famous memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail was published when she was 43 years old. It took her two and a half years to trace the steps, challenges, and revelations she faced during her three-month, 1,100-mile hike from the Mojave Desert to the Pacific Northwest onto paper—and about two minutes for the finished book to land on the New York Times bestseller list. In the months following, Cheryl experienced instant fame—from Oprah’s Book Club 2.0 to the film adaptation championed by Reese Witherspoon and Nick Hornby, Wild went, well, wild. It is an international bestseller and a recipient of the Barnes & Noble Discover Award and the Oregon Book Award. Cheryl is also the author of the New York Times bestsellers Tiny Beautiful Things and Brave Enough. Her first novel, Torch, was published in 2007. Her essays have been published in the New York Times Magazine, the Washington Post, Vogue, and Tin House, among others, and her work has been selected three times for inclusion in the The Best American Essays. She anonymously authored The Rumpus’s popular Dear Sugar advice column from 2010 to 2012, for which she now cohosts a podcast. She currently lives and writes in Portland, Oregon.

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Lisa: You worked for many years at writing, and it wasn’t until just a few short years ago, in your early 40s, you published the book that made you a household name. I encounter a lot of young artists who imagine that if they just concoct some magical formula they can have “instant success.” How would you describe the role of purpose, work, and patience in your own journey?

Cheryl: I was a successful writer long before Wild was published. What happened with Wild wasn’t “success.” It was crazy lightning striking. I’m always taken aback when people imply that I achieved success in my 40s. In fact, I had a pretty steady upward career trajectory as a writer, and all of that came about because, as you say, I showed up each day to do the work. I began publishing in my 20s. By the time I was in my early 30s I had won many awards and grants, and was publishing in respected magazines, and I’d earned my MFA in creative writing. In my mid-30s I sold my first novel to a major publisher and it was broadly reviewed and sold well. Meanwhile, I was continuing to publish essays in prominent places and I was also teaching writing.

I was known in the literary community. Then Wild happened and with that came fame and a much broader international audience. It was astounding and glorious, but it didn’t, for me, mark the beginning of the sense that I’d arrived as a writer. I was already there and I’m still here—working my tail off. That’s the magic formula: work.

Lisa: One of the most life-changing lessons I’ve learned over the past ten years is the power of embracing all of my life experience, and this is something you write about as well. Why is this idea of owning and learning to love all of your experience (even the stuff that makes us cringe or that would normally make us feel shame), why is it so important?

Cheryl: I’ve long believed our mistakes and failures teach us as much as our victories and successes. When you acknowledge the full spectrum of your possibility—as both someone who can be great and as someone who is sometimes not so great—you can bring the full force of your humanity to everything you do.

Lisa: What for you is the best part of getting older?

Cheryl: Feeling more secure about who I am. Feeling stronger about being okay with disappointing people. Putting up less of a facade. Being gentler with myself and others, too.

Lisa: What do you think is the relationship between forgiveness and the ability to age joyfully?

Cheryl: I’ve written about forgiveness a lot and it all pretty much boils down to the fact that when you can’t forgive people who have harmed you (or forgive yourself for the harm you’ve done to others) you stay locked in that struggle. Forgiveness is, to me, really acceptance. Accepting that what’s true is true. It’s saying, this is the way it was and onward we go.

Lisa: What are the three greatest lessons you’ve learned in the last ten years?

Cheryl: 1. Saying no is one form of saying yes. 2. Our ideas about famous people are projections of who we are, not a reflection of who they are. 3. Everyone struggles. Everyone hurts. Everyone wants to be told it’s all going to be okay.

Lisa: What advice do you have for women who fear getting older?

Cheryl: The fear of getting older is about the false notion that one’s power was rooted in the things that youth offers us—namely, beauty. My advice would be to see that for the lie that it always was. Our power is never about how pretty we are. Our power is about how we live our lives. Start living it.


A Glorious Freedom by Lisa Congdon publishes on 03 October 2017. Find out more here. 

See the stunning book trailer here

Celebrate International Women’s Day with Well Read Women

Today is International Women’s Day.

We are celebrating Womankind with these beautiful watercolour literary heroines, all of them written by our literary heroines, from Samantha Hahn’s Well-Read Women.

Catherine Earnshaw - Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

Catherine Earnshaw
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

Wuthering Heights is Emily Brontë’s only novel it was published in 1847 under the pseudonym Ellis Bell; Brontë died the following year, aged 30.

Although Wuthering Heights is now widely regarded as a classic of English literature, contemporary reviews for the novel were deeply polarised; it was considered controversial because its depiction of mental and physical cruelty and it challenged strict Victorian ideals, including religious hypocrisy, morality, social classes and gender inequality.

Esther Greenwood - The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Esther Greenwood
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

“Sometimes just being a woman is an act of courage.”

The Bell Jar is the only novel written by the American writer and poet Sylvia Plath. Originally published under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas in 1963, the novel is semi-autobiographical, the protagonist’s descent into mental illness parallels Plath’s own experiences with what may have been clinical depression. Plath committed suicide a month after its first UK publication. The novel was published under Plath’s name for the first time in 1967 and was not published in the United States until 1971, pursuant to the wishes of Plath’s mother and her husband Ted Hughes.

Joe Marsh - Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Jo March
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Little Women was originally published in two volumes in 1868 and 1869.  The novel follows the lives of four sisters—Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy March—detailing their passage from childhood to womanhood, and is loosely based on the Alcott and her three sisters.

In the pages of Little Women, you read the normalisation of ambitious women. This provided an alternative to perceived gender roles. Little Women repeatedly reinforces the importance of individuality and female independence. 

Edna Pontellier - The Awakening by Kate Chopin

Edna Pontellier
The Awakening by Kate Chopin

The Awakening, originally titled A Solitary Soul, was first published in 1899.

Set in New Orleans and the Southern Louisiana coast at the end of the nineteenth century, the plot centers on Edna Pontellier and her struggle to reconcile her increasingly unorthodox views on femininity and motherhood with the prevailing social attitudes of the turn-of-the-century American South. It is one of the earliest American novels that focuses on women’s issues without condescension. It is also widely seen as a landmark work of early feminism, generating mixed reaction from contemporary readers and criticism.

Lorelei Lee - Gentlemen Prefer Blondes by Anita Loos

Lorelei Lee
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes by Anita Loos
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes began as a series of short sketches published in Harper’s Bazaar, Known as the “Lorelei” stories, they were satires on the state of sexual relations; quadrupling the magazine’s circulation overnight.The heroine, Lorelei Lee, was a bold, ambitious flapper, who was much more concerned with collecting expensive baubles from her conquests than any marriage licenses, in addition to being a shrewd woman of loose morals and high self-esteem. She was a practical young woman who had internalised the materialism of the United States in the 1920s and therefore equated culture with cold cash and tangible assets.
A bold story with a bold heroine.
Share you literary heroines – fictional characters and authors – with us on twitter using the #WellReadWomen