Cheryl Strayed

Cheryl Strayed is a writer known for such works as Torch, Wild and Tiny Beautiful Things.


Cheryl Strayed was born in Spangler, Pennsylvania, on September 17, 1968. She graduated from the University of Minnesota and earned a graduate degree in fiction writing from Syracuse University. Her first book, Torched, debuted in 2006, and the autobiographical work paved the way for Wild, a memoir of Strayed's life-changing hike on the Pacific Crest Trail. Wild went on to become a New York Times No. 1 bestseller and Oprah Winfrey's first pick for her relaunched book club. The film version is slated for 2014.

Early Years

Originally Cheryl Nyland, Cheryl Strayed was born on September 17, 1968, in Spangler, Pennsylvania. When she was young, her family moved to McGregor, Minnesota, where Strayed later attended McGregor High School. During her high school years, the homecoming queen and cheerleader struggled with an eating disorder, which she overcame in her college years.

Strayed began her college studies at the University of St. Thomas but transferred to the University of Minnesota, where she earned a BA in English. She started keeping a journal in her 20s, something that would one day greatly influence her future as a writer.

Another touchstone that would color her life and writing was the 1991 passing of her mother, who was only 45. Her mother’s death from cancer devastated Strayed, and she began to unravel, which led to a divorce and heroin use. Pulling herself up eventually, she decided to wipe the slate clean in a unique way.

Pacific Crest Trail

In 1995, the same year she legally changed her last name, Strayed set off on a 1,100-mile hike along the West Coast of the United States on the Pacific Crest Trail, and the trek proved to be both eye-opening and therapeutic. Strayed found that when she was finished she had come to terms with aspects of her life that had previously weighed on her, and the three months she spent hiking the PCT allowed her to start putting these events behind her.

“I'll never know, and neither will you, of the life you don't choose."

In 1999, Strayed remarried and soon after began her graduate work at Syracuse University, where she earned her MFA in fiction writing (2002).

Torch and Wild

After graduation, Strayed turned her sights to fiction writing, and her novel Torch appeared in 2006. Loosely based on Strayed’s own childhood, Torch was embraced by critics and readers alike. To hold readers over until her next longer work, Strayed offered up short stories, and one of them, “Munro County,” earned her the Pushcart Prize in 2010. Others appeared in such publications as The Best American Essays, The New York Times Magazine, The Washington Post Magazine and Salon.

“Whatever happens to you belongs to you. Make it yours. Feed it to yourself even if it feels impossible to swallow. Let it nurture you, because it will.”

But in 2012, Strayed’s book Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail appeared, and it proved to be a launch pad for major literary success. Pieced together from notes and reflections on her West Coast trek, the book hit No. 1 on The New York Times Bestseller List and became Oprah Winfrey’s first pick for her re-imagined book club. Commenting on writing Wild, Strayed said, “After I completed my hike on the PCT, the story I most urgently had to tell was the one I told in my first book, Torch. I think the years between my hike and writing about it made for a better book.”

That same year, Strayed revealed that she was “Sugar,” the previously anonymous online advice columnist for The Rumpus’ wildly popular “Dear Sugar” column. In late 2014, Wild hit the big screen, starring Reese Witherspoon. All of Strayed's works, including her other 2012 release, Tiny Beautiful Things, a collection of her advice columns, have remained robust sellers.

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