BENNINGTON — A Bennington local and Mount Anthony Union High School alum won a contest to have her essay published about how the book, "Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia" inspired her after traveling to New Zealand.
Lettie Stratton, along with 49 other writers, answered Elizabeth Gilbert's question of "What will 'Eat Pray Love' make you do?"
"Gilbert was unhappy and took action to make a change, which I respect, and as a writer I admired her style," Stratton said. "I connected to the travel portion of the book. It made me go out and see things I hadn't."
"Eat Pray Love Made Me Do It: Life Journeys Inspired by Elizabeth Gilbert's Bestselling Memoir" is an anthology of 50, out of 2,000 submitted, 1,500-word essays to celebrate the book's 10th anniversary. Published in 2006, "Eat Pray Love" is a memoir about Gilbert's journey around the world following a divorce. The book was turned into a movie in 2010 starring Julia Roberts. Due to the popularity, Gilbert became considered one of the 100 most influential people in the world, according to the author's site.
In order to reach New Zealand, Stratton sold everything she owned that had monetary value, including her car and furniture. She said filling just a backpack and leaving felt rather "freeing." Stratton and her partner participated in the World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) in order to stray from traditional tourist trips. She and her partner would work for half a day in exchange for room and board.
"Basically that's the way I was able to sustain a long period of travel. The only expenses were going from place to place," she said. "We even helped build a mud brick house. It was an interesting opportunity to figure out ways without traditional money exchange. I've never really had a lot of money in my life so to do a trip on a couple of thousand dollars is cool."
After graduating from St. Lawrence University in New York, Stratton worked at a publishing house in Burlington executing books on sustainable living and gardening. After a while, the writer decided she wanted to explore these areas for herself.
"I loved it, but I was so inspired by the books we were putting out," she explained. "I wanted to be the books and do them. I wanted to work with the land and not a computer."
Stratton first read "Eat, Pray, Love" a few years before the essay contest was announced, and decided to travel after rereading it. She had explored the world under academic organizations in high school and college, but never on her own. Instead of acting as a tourist, she wanted to "see communities in another place."
After 14 months, Stratton decided it was time to return to the states, and if she didn't, she said she knew she would never leave, but cited her love for her family and friends in Vermont.
"Right now I'm enjoying being in one place, and traveling for over a year is pretty exhausting. There's perks for staying put for a while," she said. "I definitely want to travel a lot more. There are so many more places on my list."
At the top sits Thailand, followed by more of Australia, Peru, Argentina, and other areas of Southeast Asia. Incorporating work exchange into future trips is something Stratton plans to continue.
"It's a unique way to get an insider's view to the community, and not having a guide and as a tourist," she said. "I like having that guide to see what it's actually like and be a part of the local community. It's valuable. I would want to do that again."
Winners of the essay contest received a $50 cash prize and the publication from Riverhead Books. The anthology is available at the Bennington Bookshop and Barnes & Noble as well as online on Amazon, BAM!, iBooks, Powell's Books and Indie Bound.
"Reading the anthology is an amazing thing to see the different experiences people overcome," she said. "I've been inspired by reading the other essays and getting it out for people to see."
—Makayla-Courtney McGeeney can be reached at (802)-447-7567, ext. 118.