Media Coverage

Our City, Our Story 2021

‘Eat, Pray, Love’ and ‘Heavy’ authors to share Memphis stage

‘Eat, Pray, Love’ and ‘Heavy’ authors to share Memphis stage

By , Daily Memphian | September 09, 2021
Click here to link to the Daily Memphian story.

Elizabeth Gilbert and Kiese Laymon have their differences.

She’s a white woman who’s lived primarily in the east and west, her closest connection to Memphis not particularly close: A semester spent teaching at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.

He’s a Black man from Jackson, Mississippi, currently on faculty down the road at the University of Mississippi in Oxford, and someone for whom Memphis looms large. (“Memphis was the only place we went for vacation,” said Laymon in a recent phone interview. “The way people think about New York or Atlanta, I thought that way about Memphis.”) 

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But they also have much in common: Writers of the same generation who penetrated the public consciousness via memoir, writing about their own lives, in Gilbert’s words, without much armor. 

Initially a fiction writer and journalist, Gilbert became a sensation with her 2006 memoir “Eat, Pray, Love,” about her travels in the wake of a divorce. Laymon began as a novelist and essayist, but expanded his audience with 2018’s “Heavy,” a coming-of-age memoir in part about his complicated relationship with his mother. 

They also share a lecture agent, mutual admiration and, for the first time ever next week, the stage. Or at least a virtual one. 

Gilbert and Laymon will be in virtual conversation, for a Memphis audience, in the 2021 edition of MIFA’s “Our City, Our Story” series, where they will be charged with tackling questions such as “How do we come back together after this latest crisis?” and “What does a better America look like?”

The conversation will take place at 11:45 a.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 14th. Tickets are $25.

Given the similarities and connections, you might think this event is a part of some kind of joint tour. That this is a show Gilbert and Laymon are taking on the road, so to speak. Instead, it’s a Memphis one-off. 

“I wish we were taking it on the road,” said Gilbert, in a separate phone interview. “That would be amazing.”

Gilbert says that she and Laymon have “a modern digital friendship,” writing notes to each other across the digital divide.

“‘Heavy’ blew my mind so much when it came out,” said Gilbert. “I think he’s a genius, frankly, a really important writer, so when the possibility came up of us sharing a virtual stage together, that was an easy yes for me.” 

“Liz knows how much I love her work, but we’ve never met in real life before,” said Laymon. “This will be the longest that we’ve had a sustained conversation. People have asked us both to do things together and it just hasn’t worked out, timing-wise, but I love that the first thing we do is going to be in Memphis. I wish we could be in person.”

As for the conversation to come, it will be a bit of a jump ball, but both Laymon and Gilbert sound eager to plumb to complexities of “coming together” in the wake of COVID

“The idea of coming back together has to be interrogated, because that assumes that we were once together,” said Laymon. “I don’t know if we were ever together, and I don’t know if ‘coming together’ is the remedy to what we’re seeing, but we’re going to get into that, I’m sure.”

“At the beginning of COVID there was this notion that it could be a unifying event, because everyone in the world was facing the same crisis, which may be historically unprecedented,” said Gilbert. “People were saying ‘we’re all in the same boat’ and I saw a correction of that that I thought was accurate: No, we’re all in the same storm, but some of us have really nice boats and some of us don’t have a boat at all. That doesn’t mean the storm isn’t happening to everybody, but it means that it’s impacting people differently.”

Laymon, particularly attuned to the way rural and/or Southern non-white populations get left out of the public conversation, agrees.

 “We need to be talking about the particularities of the ‘we’ and what we’re doing to ensure that the people who suffered the most pre-COVID don’t continue to suffer the most post-COVID,” said Laymon. “I think that’s a more important question to me, and the answer might be that we can’t do that unless we do come together.”

If it sounds like searching for an impossible destination, Gilbert thinks Laymon might be a pretty good guide. 

“Kiese, you know, he writes about love in a way that is so beautiful and devastating and rich and complex. He’s got a heart you can feel on every page of his work. He’s got a heart that simply can’t bring itself to give up on love,” she said. “He talks about his grandmother and the influence she had on his life and how she was good at loving. When you’re raised by somebody who is good at loving, love is the baseline for your entire understanding of the world. One of the questions I would have for him is: How do you reconcile that with being raised in a country that isn’t good at loving?”

Coming Together: A Virtual Conversation with Elizabeth Gilbert and Kiese Laymon, hosted by the Metropolitan Inter-Faith Alliance (MIFA), will be held on Tuesday, September 14, at 11:45 a.m. Tickets are $25. For more information, and to register, see community.mifa.org/ourcityourstory. 

MIFA Press Release

Press Release

By MIFA (Metropolitan Inter-Faith Association)


Media Contact:
Andrew Vaughan
Marketing and Communications Director
Phone: 901 870 8912
Email: avaughan@mifa.org

Memphis, Tenn. (August 9, 2021) – Laymon and Gilbert will discuss how we, as a community, come together after a period of separation—physical, due to the pandemic, but also political and ideological. How do we remember what we have in common? How do we heal? Laymon and Gilbert will explore these questions and more in a virtual conversation.

“We are honored to present this valuable conversation between Kiese Laymon and Elizabeth Gilbert. MIFA was created in 1968 in response to widespread social unrest and division, and we can see parallels to that turbulent time in 2021. Especially now, it is vital to have conversations about personal connection, coming back together as a community, and beginning to heal,” said Sally Heinz, MIFA President and CEO.

About Kiese Laymon
Kiese Laymon is a Black southern writer from Jackson, Mississippi. Laymon is the author of the genre-bending novel, Long Division, and the essay collection, How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America. Laymon’s bestselling memoir, Heavy: An American Memoir, won the 2019 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction, the 2018 Christopher Isherwood Prize for Autobiographical Prose, the Austen Riggs Erikson Prize for Excellence in Mental Health Media, and was named one of the 50 Best Memoirs of the Past 50 Years by The New York Times. The audiobook, read by the author, was named the Audible 2018 Audiobook of the Year.

Laymon is the recipient of 2020-2021 Radcliffe Fellowship at Harvard. Laymon is at work on several new projects, including the long poem, Good God, the horror comedy, And So On, the children’s book, City Summer, Country Summer and the film Heavy: An American Memoir. He is the founder of “The Catherine Coleman Literary Arts and Justice Initiative,” a program aimed at getting Mississippi kids and their parents more comfortable reading, writing, revising and sharing.

About Elizabeth Gilbert
Gilbert’s memoir, Eat, Pray, Love, exploded onto the scene in 2006. The #1 New York Times bestseller famously chronicled the year Gilbert spent traveling the world after a shattering divorce. Translated into more than 30 languages, it has sold over thirteen million copies, and was adapted into a 2010 film starring Julia Roberts and Javier Bardem. Following Eat, Pray, Love, Gilbert wrote Committed: A Love Story, a meditation on marriage as a sociohistorical institution.

In the years since, people around the world have looked to Gilbert for guidance in leading brave, authentic, and creative lives. Gilbert’s bestselling nonfiction treatise, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, unpacks her own generative process and shares her wise, witty insights into the mysteries of curiosity and inspiration.

Our City, Our Story 2021 will take place virtually on Tuesday, September 14, 2021 at 11:45 AM CDT.

Registration is now open; visit community.mifa.org to purchase a ticket.

About MIFA

Founded in 1968, MIFA serves over 40,000 people annually as it works to unite the community through service. MIFA supports the independence of vulnerable seniors and families in crisis through the high-impact programs: Meals on Wheels, Long-Term Care Ombudsman, and Emergency Services, Rapid Rehousing, Emergency Shelter Placement and a 24-hour Hotline for Homeless Families.

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