Writer Cheryl Strayed visits alma mater to discuss ‘Wild’ in Hendricks Chapel

New York Times best-selling author talks life, writing, and the everyday struggles of being human.

After losing her mother to cancer, leaving college and dabbling in drugs and promiscuity, Cheryl Strayed took a hike. At 22, she didn’t know that hiking the Pacific Crest Trail would change her life forever and ultimately help reveal her true identity as a writer.

On Wednesday, Oct. 7, Strayed’s appearance filled Hendricks Chapel with adoring fans, aspiring writers and the occasional F-bomb. Authentic anecdotes and wise words graced the ears of all in attendance as Strayed discussed her journey to becoming a world-renowned writer. 

Photo: Cheryl Strayed, author, Wild, book, Syracuse University, alumni, Hendricks Chapel, University Lecture Series
Best-selling author and Syracuse University alumna Cheryl Strayed talks life, writing and the everyday struggles of being human at Hendricks Chapel on Oct. 7.

The event began with a warm welcome by Mary Karr, professor of English at Syracuse University and friend of Strayed. As an alumna, Strayed often reminisced on her time spent at SU pursuing her MFA in fiction writing and doted upon the community of professors she believes helped start her career. “That was the beginning that led to everything else. I had walked into a group of people who told me I was a writer,” said Strayed. 

She focused the lecture on how the journey of Wild led her to realize she didn’t need a reason to be a writer, she already had one. Strayed explained: “I did not write wild because I took a hike, I wrote it because I am a writer. I wrote it when I had something to say about it.”

Stayed glided through the lecture, popping in humorous anecdotes left and right. She spoke of her rough upbringing, her time spent in college, the deep sense of loss that fueled her downward spiral and a candid outlook on the fears we face everyday.

She said, “I don’t want to be a person who doesn’t do things because they’re scared or afraid.”

When discussing Wild, she focused less on the book and the major motion picture, and moreon the realization that life is better than fiction and one shouldn’t wait to write until they believe interesting things are happening to them. Life is interesting enough.

She explained, “Real life gives us all kind of materials. It’s about discovering the deeper meaning of what happens to us.”

Strayed spoke in a quick, concise and casual manner. The audience responded with relaxed laughter and an overall sense of comfort and ease. Her authentic sense of self and quick to humor personality was seen throughout the lecture as well as the following Q&A. 

She cursed often, commented on her cursing and always joined the audience in their laughter.

At the closing of her lecture an audience Q&A was held, where Strayed gave advice to aspiring writers and answered questions on her other works such as Torch and Tiny Beautiful Things

Strayed concluded the event in appreciation to SU’s writing faculty and received a standing ovation. A book signing in the back of the chapel took place shortly after.  

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