The day before we talked on the phone, Elizabeth Gilbert came out for the second time. The venue was Instagram, where she posted a black-and-white image of herself. In it, she's smiling—teeth out, dimples on full display—and swaddled in a man's arms. He's smiling too, leaning into her hair as if trying to absorb her scent.
This is Simon, a writer from the UK, according to Gilbert's caption. Fourteen months after losing Rayya Elias—the woman Gilbert calls "the central guiding post" in her life—she's in love again. There are almost 7,000 comments on the post, all of them glowing.
Gilbert's career has been defined by one book: Eat, Pray, Love, a runaway best seller about self-discovery and meeting her now ex-husband (the man she would, years later, end up leaving for Elias). She was wildly open about this development in her life, announcing on Facebook in September 2016 that she'd fallen in love with her best friend, who'd been diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. She documented their next 16 months together on social media as well, as Elias got sicker and sicker and their love, it seemed from the outside, seemed to get deeper.
Leaving the hot male love interest in Eat, Pray, Love for a woman was surely unexpected to Gilbert's fans. The book has become a sort of religious text for legions of women. Gilbert jokingly describes her audience as "divorced women," but she's much more than that one book: She was a successful magazine writer before Eat, Pray, Love and has now written 10 books, including City of Girls, which comes out in June.
She describes the process of writing City of Girls as "kind of a joyride." The book, which is largely set in the 1940s, follows a 19-year-old Vassar dropout who gets involved in a major scandal in the New York theater world. It's light and—in typical Gilbert fashion—funny, but Gilbert wrote it from the depths of her grief over Elias's illness and death. She says she has no plans to write a "cancer memoir" about that experience, but she is planning on talking about it, including, quite possibly, during her appearance in Seattle on April 14 at McCaw Hall.
When I asked how she survived, she paused for a long moment, then responded, "It's a process... Some of how I've survived was in taking an enormous amount of pride in what we did. I know that she died knowing how loved she was. And that I took an enormous risk and gave up everything to take care of her. Knowing that I did that is a balm."
She added, "I do a lot of supernatural shit to stay in contact with her. I truly don't know whether it's my imagination or it's real, but it's very comforting. I write to her. I talk to her. I insist on keeping that relationship alive."
Simon, her new love, was one of Elias's closest friends, too. "I can't live without her," Gilbert says, "and so I don't."