'Eat, Pray, Love': Elizabeth Gilbert Speaks at Washington National Cathedral

By David Montgomery
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 30, 2009

They have come from as far as New York and Durham, N.C., their hopes and their hurts in tow, seeking enlightenment and autographs. The line forms nearly two hours before showtime and stretches from the gates of Washington National Cathedral out onto its lawn. The arrivals, most of whom are women, paid as much as $22 each to spend their Friday evening this way.

When all 2,250 make it to their seats inside the sanctuary -- some with views partially obstructed by pillars -- Samuel T. Lloyd III, dean of the cathedral, welcomes the throng. "It's not quite like this every Sunday," he says. "I wish it would be."

But then, writer Elizabeth Gilbert isn't in the house every Sunday, and this isn't church. Friday's gathering takes place at the great American crossroads of books and buzz, art and personality, life and death.

The preacher in his black suit and white collar yields the microphone to the writer in her black dress and knee-high boots. Just the sight of her -- before she speaks, just that serene, slightly mischievous smile, as if she and the audience share a great secret -- causes the crowd to burst into applause and cheers.

"Nice place," Gilbert says, pausing to admire the soaring neo-Gothic setting.

Beats the bookstore circuit. The space is powerful in a different sort of way from the set of "The Oprah Winfrey Show," where she has appeared twice -- both times to talk about what we're going to talk about again tonight:

"Eat, Pray, Love." It's the title of Gilbert's not-so-new book, as well as a mantra for publishing success.

When the attendees go home, they will undoubtedly talk about it some more. And they will sow the multiple autographed copies they obtain tonight among their friends, who will talk about it with their friends, who probably already talked about it in their book clubs over wine and olives.

This has been going for three years, ever since Gilbert published her uncanny memoir of crashing in near-suicidal post-divorce depression and insecurity, then recovering through a year of travel, reflection and new friends. The subtitle is, "One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia." The subtext is: You can do it, sister.

The paperback has taken up permanent residence on bestseller lists. There are more than 7 million copies in print in more than 30 languages. Columbia Pictures hopes to have the movie out sometime next year, and hopes the likes of Julia Roberts will star.

How does this happen? What is it about this book?

Gilbert doesn't know, exactly. She refers to "the weird success of 'Eat, Pray, Love.' "

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