Hulu’s ‘Tiny Beautiful Things’ tells the story of Clare Pierce, a woman going through a crisis on all fronts. Her marriage is falling apart, her daughter barely speaks to her anymore, and her dream of becoming an accomplished writer was abandoned years ago. Her drinking habits and other questionable choices make things more complicated for her. She reflects on her younger years and how the grief of losing her mother shaped her when she starts writing an advice column called Dear Sugar. Played by Kathryn Hahn, Clare is a complex character with many layers. She is flawed and fumbles her way through life, which is what makes her so real, relatable, and grounded.
Clare Pierce is an Alternate Version of Cheryl Strayed
Clare Pierce is based on Cheryl Strayed, the author of ‘Tiny Beautiful Things’ which serves as the source material for the Hulu series. Strayed anonymously wrote the Dear Sugar column from 2010 to 2012, using her personal experiences to help her readers. Her column took the form of deeply personal essays, making it a very popular read. Speaking of her approach towards writing it, Strayed said: “I’m not some wise guru who’s like, here’s how to live. I’m right down there in the muck with you.” A compilation of her essays in the column was published in 2012 as ‘Tiny Beautiful Things,’ which Liz Tigelaar adapted into the TV show.
While Clare is based on Strayed, Tigelaar revealed that she wanted the protagonist to have a different story as an adult. Having read the book, she got “interested in how the stories in [Strayed’s] own life gave her the ability to access this advice.” The turning point in Strayed’s life came when she hiked the Pacific Crest Trail solo. The journey allowed her to process her grief and turn her life in a different direction. Tigelaar wondered what would have happened if Strayed never went on that trip.
Strayed explained that there are similarities between her and Clare, especially regarding the backstories. However, their adult versions are quite different from each other. “She had to be somebody who struggled for money all of her life as I did. She had to be somebody who lost her mother as she herself was becoming a woman, and she had to get married scandalously, ridiculously young, as I did. She had to have feelings inside of her that hurt…because those are the things that formed my psyche,” the author said. However, she added that Clare’s “present-day life is not my life. The things that are happening in her marriage are not the things that are happening in my marriage; her child is not mine.”
When writing the column, Strayed said that she channeled her grief just like Clare does in the show. The author called Sugar “the temple I built in my obliterated place” and that her writing comes from “the divine place within me that is my mother.” Sharing this trait with Clare, among several other things, Strayed expresses empathy with her on-screen incarnation. “The thing I find so moving about this character is that she leans in the direction of empathy and kindness and tells people that they can—that they can find love, that they can believe in themselves, that they can go on for another day—in the form of this advice column. She’s the conduit for not only the best parts of herself, even when everything’s gone to hell, but the best parts of us,” she said.
Considering all this, it is clear that Clare is partly based on Strayed. Her origins are similar to the author’s, but their paths diverge in the early 20s. One could call Clare Strayed’s version in an alternate universe- one who never found the clarity and direction that turned around Strayed’s life.
Where is Cheryl Strayed Today?
Cheryl Strayed lives in Portland, Oregon, with her husband, Brian Lindstrom, a documentary filmmaker. They have two children— Carver and Bobbi. Strayed has also authored ‘Torch’ and a self-help book called ‘Brave Enough.’ She has written for Vogue, The Washington Post Magazine, The Sun, and The New York Times Magazine, among others. She is also a public speaker and co-founder of VIDA: Women in Literary Arts.
Strayed became a household name in 2012 after the release of her bestselling memoir, ‘Wild,’ which was adapted into the film of the same name starring Reese Witherspoon. The book’s popularity led to a considerable increase in the number of people who hiked the Pacific Crest Trail. She continued her work as an advice columnist through the podcast ‘Dear Sugars’ which co-hosted with Steve Almond from 2014-2018. She hosted ‘Sugar Calling’ in 2020. Though she has stopped writing in the advice column, she continues her work as Sugar through her weekly newsletter.
In the Hulu series, as Clare reaches her 50s, she struggles to keep everything together. For Strayed, her 50s are the promise of something new. “One of the things I love most about being 54 is I have learned that in difficult times, something powerful and beautiful almost always emerges. This helps me get through the hard times, knowing that I’ll look back on this experience and see it as a gift in some way,” she said. She added that she feels it in her bones that “a journey is coming” which will “help [her] see the road ahead clearly.”