Pittsburgh -- Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the mega bestseller Eat, Pray, Love, will speak at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 3, at Heinz Hall as part of the Pittsburgh Speakers Series presented by Robert Morris University.
Eat, Pray, Love is the story of the year she spent traveling around the world in search of personal restoration after a difficult divorce. The result was a book which has exploded in popularity with women across the planet. Published in over 30 languages, with over 5.8 million copies sold, Eat, Pray, Love has been embraced as warmly by critics as by readers. It’s becoming clear that in writing this story, Elizabeth Gilbert did not merely produce the big book of the year, but a great and heartfelt reflection of our times.
Hailing from an educated, ascetic rural Connecticut upbringing, Elizabeth Gilbert came to her writing career with fearless reporting skills, an abiding appreciation for working-class values with an attendant skepticism of politically-correct liberalism. It was her bottomless yearning to understand the world and her place within it that drove her to become not just a writer, but an explorer.
After graduating from New York University, she used money earned at a Philadelphia diner to travel, as she says, “to create experiences to write about, gather landscapes and voices.” She went West to work on a ranch and back to New York City to work in a bar for the same reason. Gilbert’s journalism over the years has been published in Harper's Bazaar, Spin and The New York Times Magazine, but it was her work for Spin Magazine that caught the eye of the editors at Gentlemen’s Quarterly, which proved to be fertile ground for Gilbert, resulting in a run of colorful profiles and stories that eventually turned into books—and movies.
Her first article for GQ, “The Muse of the Coyote Ugly Saloon,” chronicled her experience as a waitress at the New York City bar of the same name, and was the basis for the 2000 motion picture Coyote Ugly. A profile of Hank Williams III in GQ, won the National Magazine Award and was anthologized in Best American Writing 2001. Three national magazine award nominations followed – all for her profiles of unusual and epic men.
“I think my gift, far beyond whatever gifts that I have as a writer, my gift as a human is that I can make friends with people very quickly,” she tells interviewer Frank Bures at Powell’s Books. “Everything I learned about being a journalist I learned by being a bartender. The most exquisite lesson of all is that people will tell you anything. Want to. There’s no question you can’t ask if your intention is not hostile. And it’s not like entrapment; it’s more like a gorgeous revelation. People want to tell the story that they have.”
Gilbert’s first book, a wide-ranging collection of short-stories entitled Pilgrims was a New York Times Most Notable Book and won the Ploughshares prize, the “first fiction” awards from The Paris Review and The Southern Review and was a finalist for the PEN-Hemingway Award. Several stories in the collection were staged at the Water Theater Company at the Tribeca Playhouse. Her first novel Stern Men, a story about Maine lobster fishermen, the women who defy them and entrenched island conflicts, won the Kate Chopin Award in 2001 for creating a female character who goes “beyond the boundaries of cultural expectations to claim a life on her own terms” (Florence Shinkle, St. Louis Post- Dispatch). Her third book was nominated for both the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award. A nonfiction account of the back-to-basics woodsman Eustace Conway, The Last American Man compellingly explores America’s long-standing intrigue with a luxury-free, pioneer lifestyle. Drawing inspiration from both intellectualism and pop culture, from seriousness and ribald humor, Elizabeth Gilbert strikes an engagingly subtle, thoughtful and comic balance.
But it was Eat, Pray, Love – Gilbert’s fourth book, and first memoir – which has made her a household name and a beloved “sister/friend/role model” to women (and men, for that matter) across the world. After a deep bout of depression and despair brought on by a divorce and a failed romance (one reviewer said,“Elizabeth Gilbert went from kicking ass to getting her ass kicked”), Gilbert set out across the world to reinvent her life, and make herself once more recognizable to her own soul. The courage and humor that mark Eat, Pray, Love make it the kind of book that people keep on their bedside tables for years, pages flagged, favorite passages highlighted, margins filled with the reader’s own thoughts and revelations.
As a speaker, she brings all that courage and humor to her audience and her talks are always memorable delights.
Gilbert's talk is open to subscribers to the Pittsburgh Speakers Series. A limited number of single-lecture tickets are available for purchase by RMU alumni. Tickets are sold in pairs only. Call 412-397-2586 and identify yourself as an RMU alum.