Eat, Pray, Love | Study Guide

Elizabeth Gilbert

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Elizabeth Gilbert | Biography


Early Life

Elizabeth Gilbert was born on July 18, 1969, in Waterbury, Connecticut, and spent her childhood in the area. Her family owned and operated a rural Christmas tree farm. Gilbert had one older sister, Catherine, who also became a writer. She said their development into writers was natural, since they had no television at their farmhouse and few modern conveniences. Their parents were well-educated and had both worked in other careers before buying the farm. The main thing the family believed in was hard work, but her parents regarded reading as an appropriate leisure activity and so the girls escaped from their many chores into the world of books. They also regularly wrote their own stories, which they bound into books, complete with author biographies.

Writing Success

Gilbert graduated from New York University in 1991 with a degree in political science. After college she traveled around the country, working odd jobs as she sought experiences to write about, both in her role as a journalist contributing to various magazines and as a fiction writer. These travels resulted in the 1997 publication of a collection of short stories, Pilgrims, which brought Gilbert critical acclaim and the 1998 Pushcart Prize. Pilgrims was followed in 2000 by Gilbert's first novel, Stern Men, which became a New York Times Notable Book.

Gilbert has also been a successful nonfiction writer. Her journalistic pieces have been nominated three times for the National Magazine Award and her 2002 nonfiction book, The Last American Man, was a finalist for the National Book Award. Eat, Pray, Love quickly became an international best seller, being translated into more than 30 languages and selling more than 10 million copies. In 2010 it was adapted into a major Hollywood film starring American actress Julia Roberts. Ten years after its initial publication, Eat, Pray, Love was issued as a special 10th-Anniversary Edition, including an updated introduction by Gilbert in which she affirms how fortunate she feels for being able to make the trip she wrote so successfully about. In interviews around that time, she speaks about how inspirational it has been for her to have had a positive impact on so many readers' lives. She succinctly expresses the main message she thinks people get from her story: "My life doesn't have to look like this anymore."

Committed, published in 2010, is a follow-up to Eat, Pray, Love, and was also an immediate best seller. In 2013 Gilbert's The Signature of All Things became a best-selling novel. Her 2015 nonfiction book Big Magic: Creative Living beyond All Fear has also fared extremely well with readers.

Personal Turmoil

Gilbert has never hidden her personal problems from the public. Part of her charm for readers is her witty commentary about life as well as her ability to poke fun at herself. Eat, Pray, Love was the result of the breakup of her first marriage and the depression she experienced at the time.

Her second marriage, in 2007, to José Nuñes (the Brazilian "Felipe" of Eat, Pray, Love who was also featured in Committed), ended in 2016. A few months later Gilbert announced on Facebook that she had entered a same-sex relationship with the woman she has long described as her best friend, Rayya Elias. A multitalented Syrian-born musician, celebrity hairstylist, author, and filmmaker, Elias was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic and liver cancers in 2016. The two women participated in a commitment ceremony in June 2017.
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