Connecticut College Magazine · Spring 2012

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Skipper Amanda Clark '05, left, and her crew, Sarah Lihan, will sail for the U.S. in the 2012 London Olympics. Photo by Mick Anderson/US Sailing.

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Scaling mountains and bestseller lists

Scaling mountains and bestseller lists
Photo by Kirsten Luce

Sloane Crosley '00

by Julie Wernau


If not for the blunt advice of her immovable mentor Blanche McCrary Boyd, Sloane Crosley '00 might still be writing bad bloodbath psycho killer suburban revenge stories instead of social satire and hilarious, bestselling essays about mountaintop survival.

“She asked to see me after class and I remember climbing up to her office in Blaustein, and it was so beautiful and bright in that stairwell. I felt like I was ascending to a place of approval,” Crosley recalls of her first, freshman-year meeting with Boyd, the Roman and Tatiana Weller Professor of English and Writer-in-Residence, after turning in a “very bloody” piece with “a lot of dead bodies in it.”

In her signature Southern accent that Crosley says “can make anything sound more profound,” Boyd told her student that, indeed, somebody “up there” had given her a talent — but this wasn't what she was supposed to be doing with it.

“I was a psyched little puppy, and she just rolled up a newspaper and hit me on the nose with it,” says Crosley, her grin audible through the phone line.

Crosley — now the bestselling author of two essay collections, “I Was Told There'd Be Cake” and “How Did You Get This Number,” and a contributor to the New York Times, GQ and NPR — maintains a relationship with her former teacher. Boyd traveled to the New York Public Library in November to attend Crosley's sold-out live interview with Joan Didion, an author Boyd asks her students to model in terms of understanding “voice” in writing.

“It meant the world to me, it really did, that she came,” Crosley says.

When she thinks back on her time at Connecticut College, Crosley says she recognizes the progress she has made as a writer since her days publishing columns in The College Voice about the etiquette of saving tables at Harris.

“I am grateful for the trajectory of the Internet. It narrowly missed me. You can't find them (the columns) online,” Crosley says, in the same self-deprecating style her fans so admire in her writing.

Crosley, the editor of last year's “Best American Travel Writing,” most recently released “Up the Down Volcano” as a Kindle Single, part of Amazon's latest venture into e-publishing. Reading the essay, about a mountain in Ecuador that she learned, too late, she wasn't prepared to climb, is like having a conversation with Crosley herself: authentic, uncomfortable at times, wry and laugh-out-loud funny.

Boyd says Crosley was like many of the students she's taught over the years and watched grow into powerful writers: a fish who didn't know she was in water. Boyd says her job is to help them see the aquarium.

“I tell my students, 'You are the only instance of you ever in the universe at this place in time,'” Boyd says. “A lot of what I did with Sloane is what I do with everyone: encourage the students to have a voice.”

Last year, Crosley made the difficult decision to leave her longtime job as a publicity director at Knopf to focus on her writing.

“Writing is such a struggle. If you're doing it right, everything you are is wrapped up in it,” she says.

And this spring, she's trying her hand at helping others find their voices, teaching narrative nonfiction to M.F.A. students at Columbia University.

“If I feel the need to produce nuggets of wisdom, (the students are) going to wonder why they're being delivered in a Southern accent,” she says.


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