A decade ago, no one could have predicted the awesome success that awaited Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir Eat Pray Love. In the years since Gilbert cataloged her journey of self-discovery, she’s heard from countless readers whose lives were forever changed by her book. To mark the title’s 10-year anniversary, Gilbert and her publisher Riverhead Books invited those affected by the memoir to pen essays about their own transformations. The final culmination of nearly 50 essays (culled from nearly 2,000 submissions) make up Eat Pray Love Made Me Do It, which launches today, March 29. Taken together, these inspiring tales, including one story written by Coloradan Karstee Davis, give power to the depth of personal change that this book has become known for. In preparation of Gilbert’s upcoming book tour (she lands at the Paramount Theatre in Denver on May 5) we asked her a few questions:
5280: How did Eat Pray Love Made Me Do It come about?
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Elizabeth Gilbert: My publisher put out a call for essays, and they got a tsunami of responses. It was so touching to see. This is a more formal gathering of the kinds of stories I’ve been hearing for 10 years in letters, at the airport, on airplanes, everywhere. What I loved about this is how the book was put together. A lot of the essays came from people who aren’t writers but if their stories moved us, they worked with a good editor. It’s the first time—maybe the only time—these people will see their names in print. They all did these brave things, they had this transformation, they owned it, they told the story, and they hit “Send.” You can feel the trauma and the drama of a person’s life. The book is an accumulation of courage that’s finally getting its reward.
What did you learn from these essays?
This book seemed to give people permission to ask dangerous questions of their lives. They asked Is this working—and that could have been anything: this marriage, this religious path, this reliance on alcohol. Ask the question and you’re forced to either answer the question or ignore it. It takes a tremendous amount of energy to pretend that things are OK. When I wrote [Eat Pray Love] I was looking for something very specific. But I didn’t know what I would find…I only knew I was following my hunger. All I knew is that [my life at that time] was no longer sustainable, no longer tenable, no longer acceptable. It was a terrible moment. Everyone has this moment.
And what about that moment? You describe two such instances in the book’s introduction: One was a woman who was in an abusive relationship but after reading your book she left her home and never returned. The second was a man so filled with anger that he was determined to punish his soon-to-be ex-wife, but after reading the book he called off the fight and let her go. What about your book instituted such change?
These moments are invitations for you to respond. I think often the invitation comes but the response doesn’t. Something that could have been an epiphanic moment is something you bury. These invitations, they’ll keep coming up if you repress them. I think epiphanies are defined by 1) Oh my god, there’s this glaringly obvious truth. 2) Oh my god, why have I not seen this before? 3) The terror of now what. The epiphany isn’t fun: There’s shock, shame, and terror, but if you stay with it and own it and be truthful there comes a moment of deep stillness. And then, your new life begins.
Catch Elizabeth Gilbert at 8 p.m. at the Paramount Theatre on May 5. 5280 is sponsoring the VIP reception prior to the event and I will moderate the 30-minute Q&A session after Gilbert’s talk. Tickets start at $39.