It’s easy to get lost in Sugar-Land; the melodic, smooth writing, and careful, caring words. It’s hard not to wish you knew Sugar, while at the same time enjoying the magic of the secret fairy godmother figure, who has all the answers to life’s difficult questions. On February 14 (next Tuesday), after more than five dozen anonymous, beautifully, heartfelt written letters to people who write her weekly, Sugar will be telling the world who she really is. According to Isaac Fitzgerald (Managing Editor of The Rumpus, where Sugar’s columns run), “we love the shit out of Sugar, and… she made the choice to come out, as it were, because she has a book coming out soon!” Why does this matter? Why should YOU care if Sugar’s identity is going to be revealed and (to add a cherry on top of an already delicious sundae) has a book coming out soon? Read on.
How is it that one person can know exactly what to say all the time, in any situation? On top of knowing what to say, the ability to say it in a wise, caring, and right way (yes, there is a right way — and Sugar always seems to know what it is). You may argue that it’s because she gets to pick the letters that she responds to, and this would be true. She doesn’t get to pick the letters that she receives, though, so her control in that department is limited, and she has covered enough subjects for her readers to know that it is not in one particular area in which she has been given so much wisdom. I’ve been told I’m a good advice giver; I know I am a good advice giver. However, the difference between Sugar and me is that she cares about everybody and I only care about people I know. That may sound harsh, but I’m trying to be honest so that you can see how stand-out Sugar is. I adore my family, I love my friends, I’ve even cared deeply about co-workers. I’ve been a sister, daughter, niece, cousin, friend, significant other, and care-giver, so I have no shortage of areas in my life where I give emotional support, but it tires me to do so – even for these people that I love the very most in the world. Sugar has a life of her own outside The Rumpus screen, yet she is still able to fully empathize with each letter that she answers in a way that makes your heart melt and your brain think that she must - she must - care about the person whom she is writing to (and the rest of us who are stooped over our screen waiting for Sugar to make it better).
I’ve laughed at myself before, wishing I would be like Sugar (who so very often reminds me of my mother) when I grow up, but at 32 I know I’m quite grown, and will (unfortunately) probably never be like Sugar. This is exactly why I like her so much. She is a better person than most of us, and she can articulate that goodness in the most delicious way. Her goodness does not stem from purity or propriety, it comes from her humanity. She is truthful and real, while giving her readers their medicine in transformative, replenishing doses. Reading just one of Sugar’s letters can leave you filled with the idea that you can actually be a better person… that maybe someday you can be more like Sugar.
It has been mentioned that revealing Sugar’s identity might take the magic out of her words and I was terrified that it will because what she does is so important but, in her letter addressing this very issue, Sugar calmed my fears by reminding us that not only do some people already know who she is (and it hasn’t negatively affected their idea of her), but also, more importantly, she tells her readers this…
The magic of anonymity for women writers throughout history is that it allowed them to publish their work. They wrote under male pseudonyms or they didn’t sign their names at all. A woman’s name on a poem or essay or story or play was the opposite of magic. That has gnawed at me. Virginia Woolf famously said “anonymous was a woman,” but I never intended to be one of those women. I owe them too much to be.
- Sugar, from “Column #94: The Amateur”
While you have a bit of time this week, might you stroll by The Rumpus and get to know Sugar? I’m not saying this for her benefit (Sugar is beloved already), I’m saying it for yours. Because someday, you’ll remember that you once read an article about an amazing writer who used to go by the name Sugar and you had the chance to experience the occasion of learning who she really was but you missed it because you didn’t take the time to care. I don’t want you to be sorry about that. I don’t want you to be like the people who missed Woodstock because they were afraid to go. Or those who weren’t paying attention when Currer Bell’s books started to be printed under Charlotte Brontë. Or me, who stumbled upon, and fell in love with a writer (Helene Hanff) just a bit too late to have written her a letter (of which she was famous for responding to) telling her so. Go meet Sugar now, and enjoy the huzzah of the revealing, and tell your children that you once “knew” (soon-to-be-revealed-writer), who once wrote as Sugar and you remember the rush of learning her true identity. I’m telling you, she’s that good.
Need help getting started in Sugar-Land?
Here’s where Sugar tells writer Elissa Bassist to “write… Not like a girl. Not like a boy. Write like a motherfucker.”
And here’s where she tells her 20 year-old self to “be brave enough to break your own heart.” It’s okay, you can cry over it a little; I did.
Or maybe you’d like to read the one where author Lidia Yuknavitch interviews Sugar, and we get a little more insight into who Sugar is.
And if you’re brave, you’ll read the one where Sugar writes to a woman who had a terrible thing happen to her, and tells her that the “place of true healing is a fierce place. It’s a giant place. It’s a place of monstrous beauty and endless dark and glimmering light. And you have to work really, really, really fucking hard to get there, but you can do it…“.