Profile of Elizabeth Gilbert, author of 'Eat, Pray, Love' and 'Committed'

By Ellen McCarthy
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 7, 2010

This week, Elizabeth Gilbert gave her Zen-chasing disciples what they'd been waiting for.

She published, finally, a follow-up to her sudden phenom of a memoir, "Eat, Pray, Love." The one where she traipsed across Italy, India and Indonesia looking for joy and God and love and the meaning of life. Because she found each, in one way or another, her book was translated into 30 languages, has been on the paperback bestseller list for 151 weeks and launched hordes of bliss-seeking women on a thousand similar trips. (Continues to launch, actually: The seven-day SpiritQuest Tour of Bali kicks off May 21. Meet Liz's medicine man! Meditate every morning!)

With the release of "Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace With Marriage," Gilbert will confront the expectations of her fans, as must any author attempting a sequel to a beloved book. J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter acolytes demand, with each installment, to be mesmerized and enchanted, just as the "Twilight" lady's devotees wanted to be riveted and romanced.

As for Gilbert's followers, well, they just expect to, you know . . .

"To have their lives changed?" she suggests.

Yeah, actually. If it's not too much trouble.

In truth, Gilbert began working on this new book long before there was much hubbub over the last one.

Sitting in a chilly, closet-size office in Frenchtown, the idyllic New Jersey village where she now makes her home, Gilbert, 40, talks about the strangeness of her last decade. Having been a writer for 10 years already, she dared to tell a story about herself that somehow became about something more than herself. And the telling of it changed her story forever.

The Connecticut native started out as a men's-magazine writer of some renown (her piece about bartending in the East Village became "Coyote Ugly"). Beyond that, she had published a critically acclaimed collection of short stories ("Pilgrims"), a novel that became a New York Times Notable Book ("Stern Men") and was finishing "The Last American Man," a work of nonfiction about an eccentric naturalist.

But at age 30, as her literary standing grew, her marriage began to crumble. She writhed on her bathroom floor in a first-rate dark night of the soul. Then she asked for a divorce, threw herself into the arms of an unsuitable young lover, took to antidepressants and secured a book contract that would allow her to spend a year traveling the world, mending her broken spirit and journaling successive epiphanies.

On her last stop, Indonesia, Gilbert met a kindly older man from Brazil who was also suffering the aftershocks of a brutal divorce. They fell in love but -- to avoid a repeat of heartaches past -- vowed, as she writes, to "never, ever under any circumstances, marry."

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