People of all ages gathered in Highland Park United Methodist Church’s Wesley Hall on Monday night to hear Elizabeth Gilbert present her new book, “The Signature of All Things.”
The author spoke as a featured guest of the Artists Live series sponsored by the Friends of the SMU Libraries, Friends of the Highland Park Library and Highland Park United Methodist Church.
Gilbert is widely known for her successful 2006 bestselling memoir, “Eat, Pray, Love,” which chronicles her journey of self-discovery while traveling alone to Italy, India and Indonesia after to her divorce.
In 2010, a film version of the memoir was released, starring Julia Roberts as Gilbert alongside Javier Bardem, James Franco, Richard Jenkins and Billy Crudup.
Gilbert kicked off the evening by introducing herself with a humorous anecdote.
While at JFK airport, she met a woman who described her as described as “that the girl who wrote that book based on that movie.”
While the film may be what thrust Gilbert into the spotlight, she was a writer long before the movie and still writes today.
Gilbert admits that following up the success of “Eat, Pray, Love” was a challenging task.
She even says there was the temptation to maybe not.
Instead of giving into that temptation, she released “Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage” in 2010.
Now, her new book, “The Signature of All Things,” falls into the fiction genre.
“It’s a big birth to death novel about a great woman,” Gilbert says.
Set in the 19th century, the novel tells the story of Henry Whittaker and his brilliant daughter, Alma, a botanist.
The story examines the world through themes of love, adventure and discovery.
After reading a section from the book, Gilbert engaged in a Q&A; session with eager audience members, answering questions ranging in topic from her writing habits to yoga to Oprah Winfrey.
Managing to be both humorous and sincere, her responses were inspirational and hilarious, leaving the entire auditorium laughing at times.
When asked by an aspiring writer about the challenges of transitioning from writing memoirs to fiction, Gilbert said the biggest challenge was to write the book that came after “Eat, Pray, Love.”
“I almost felt like it didn’t matter what it was… it just had to be something,” she said.
When writing “Committed,” Gilbert says she drew on the memory of what it was like to write when she was unsuccessful.
“Weirdly, you need the same resources to write after failure….as you do after great success.”
In response to the question of how she works, Gilbert credits her Scandinavian mother to instilling a strict self-discipline that still exists in her work ethic today.
Now that she is an established writer, Gilbert writes project to project, but she urges aspirating writers to write everyday in order to maintain motivation and achieve success.
Audience members also sought inspiration from the author’s personal experiences.
Gilbert has been open about her experience of suffering with depression, an issue that prompted the emotional journey that filled the pages of “Eat, Pray Love.”
In response to a question of how she gained the power to control her life, she responded by saying, “it’s not a point it’s a process.”
By pushing through the low points in her life, she gradually grew the strength to overcome her depression.
“The terrible irony in depression is that just at that moment that you are at you’re lowest that you must summon the greatest strength you’re ever going to need,” she said.
Gilbert admits that by the point she embarked on the journey she chronicles in “Eat, Pray, Love,” she was on her “victory lap” out of her depressed state.
“I could not have gone on that journey any earlier because I would have been in no condition to be traveling alone,” she said.
Prior to her trip, Gilbert says she spent those years in therapy, on the couch, on medication and in yoga in attempt to overcome her depression.
According to Gilbert, her mother’s mantra while growing up on a farm was “done is better than good.”
An audience member said she suffers from the need to be a perfectionist and asked Gilbert to shed some wisdom on how to let go.
Gilbert acknowledged that this is a particularly difficult issue for women in today’s society, a time when people are constantly telling others they aren’t good enough.
Her advice is to be open to criticism of your work.
“It’s a misconception that the work is your baby…you’re its baby,” she said.
She may be a well traveled, bestselling author, but when asked one of Oprah Winfrey’s questions, “What do you know for sure,” Gilbert shows she can be just as uncertain as the rest of us.
“I know for sure that it’s okay not to know anything for sure,” she says.