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Evolution of a Writer: An Interview With Elizabeth Gilbert

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Elizabeth Gilbert, the best-selling author of Eat, Pray, Love, The Signature of All Things, and the forthcoming Big Magic, speaks with Omega about her personal evolution as a writer and what she's working on now.

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Omega: Your home -- which you define as "the thing you love more than you love yourself" -- has always been writing. But after your (now husband) faced deportation and you lived together in exile abroad, home gathered a different meaning. What does "home" mean today?

Elizabeth: I'm so inconsistent, I just sold that house that I wrote Signature of All Things in and my husband and I are about to sell the buildings that we have in Frenchtown. The only thing I'm longing for right now is to not own anything or belong to anything.

It was a phase that I went through where I really needed to feel grounded, where we just felt we needed a house and a garden and a community and neighbors and that was such a balm. And especially after Eat, Pray, Love, it was really nice to be in a small community where people were really protective of us. It just felt very centering to be part of that. And now I'm sort of back to, "Where are we going to go?"

We moved to a smaller house and we'll stay in town but we're just spending less time here. I'm coming back into some other older version of myself maybe. We have so many selves in our life. I've been lucky enough to be able to honor each self as it unfolds and let it go when it's done. It's time to come into the next self, I think.

Omega: The Signature of All Things, was the first book you ever wrote at home. Where did you write Big Magic?

Elizabeth: I wrote Big Magic in a bunch of hotel rooms because I was on the road so much last year, with the Oprah Winfrey tour. It was the opposite experience of writing Signature of All Things. It's a faster book, a self-help book. The language is as big a tent as I can build, I don't want to leave anyone out. I wanted to say all the stuff in the simplest possible manner. So in a way it was suitable to write in airports, I was able to write it from a lighter place.

Omega: Before Eat, Pray, Love, you were a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award and recipient of a Pushcart Prize and a National Book Award. As a "serious writer" you tried to "make a man out" of yourself. You "came out" as a woman in your memoirs -- which were labeled "chick lit." Why do you think there is derision of women's stories, even as women make up the largest reading population?

Elizabeth: I feel like it's the last gasp -- not even the last gasp -- the post-dead gasp of the patriarchy. I don't get outraged about [the label] because I think it's such a waste of my energy. Managing what the world thinks of me is such an impossible task, it's hard enough to manage what I think of me, so I will leave everyone else to manage their own thoughts about me.

I have outrage fatigue, which does not mean that there aren't things in the world to be outraged about but just that outrage is very powerful fuel and I really save it these days for certain battles. Jesse Jackson once said, "The only defense against racism is excellence, the only defense against sexism is excellence."

It's not a battle that I'm fighting in any way other than to just continually follow my own mandate which is you are here to be a writer, you're here to do the most excellent work that you can possibly do in the most honorable way and whatever happens next is none of your business. And eventually if you and all women continue to do excellent work on whatever moves us then those barriers will just continue to drop as they have done for a long time and those conversations won't happen anymore.

Omega: What are you reading right now? What are you excited about reading next?

Elizabeth: Right now I am reading a book that to my shame I had never read before, it's E.M. Forster's A Passage to India. It is so good. I want everyone to know about this book.

"Here's my hot new tip everybody, there's this up-and-coming young British writer named E.M. Forster who I think is really going to set the world on fire."

I would love to promote a more contemporary book as well. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel -- that's probably the one that's been keeping me up late -- was a nominee for the National Book Award.

I have to get going on research for the novel that I put aside to write Big Magic about the New York City theater world in the 1940s. I want to write about women's promiscuity, a subject I'm really interested in, in a way that they are not shamed or destroyed -- a refreshing take. Although there have to be consequences of course, there is no action without reaction, especially in an era before readily available birth control or women's rights. The consequences of women's sexuality are much more serious than the consequences of men's sexuality, generally. But I also want them to have a good time. So I'm trying to figure out how to handle that all!

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