CJ Hauser on New Book and Going Viral for ‘The Crane Wife’

CJ Hauser has one. She just looks like someone you could talk to—and strangers tend to do exactly that, stopping her on the street or unloading their life stories on her on airplanes. It only adds to the phenomenon when, the day we meet in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, Hauser brings along her 6-year-old Bernese Mountain dog, a gentle giant named Moriarty. Within minutes of setting foot into the park, a man approaches Hauser to tell her about the time he was attacked by a dog, and how the bright orange of Moriarty’s harness reminded him of his trauma. Later, while we’re sitting on the grass, a woman stops and shares the story of how she came to adopt her mutt. Hauser laughs about these interruptions. They are a regular part of Hauser’s daily life with the dog and without. “I thought this was a thing in everyone’s life until a friend was like, ‘You realize this is weird, right?’” she says.

Hauser’s comfort with oversharing goes both ways. The person who created an unbeassuming biography Paris ReviewThis essay was so powerful that it became viral. “The Crane Wife,” published online in July 2019, told the story of Hauser’s experience traveling to the gulf coast of Texas to study whooping cranes 10 days after calling off her wedding, and why she chose to end that engagement. It was shared on Twitter by over a million readers.

The 38-year old author and professor of college writing is now set to release her first essay collection. It will be named after her viral article on July 12. The Crane Wife, which includes seven previously published essays and 10 brand-new ones, explores Hauser’s shifting perspective on love, in all its forms, as she dissects her most meaningful relationships. If self-exposure and confessional writing is ubiquitous these days, what sets Hauser’s storytelling apart is her ability to harness universal questions about love and the stories we tell ourselves and filter them, devastatingly, through specific, visceral moments from her own life. Her emotions are hard to discuss even 2022. She digs deep under herself. “There are a lot of feelings in here,” she says, gesturing to herself. “It’s true of us all. My relationship to what to do with those, whether to feel them or shove them away, who to share them with, whether to share them at all—that was the thing that made me feel good or bad about myself, the thing that has fluctuated over time.” After growing up in small-town Connecticut, in a family and a culture she says were not open to discussing the bitter or challenging parts of life, she is firmly in her sharing era: “I find it very soothing to put stuff on the table.”

The Crane WifeIt is not easy to put everything on the table. Hauser recalls a secret college romance she had with a friend who was a young lady. She writes, “I am not an officially elected delegate of bi-kids-who-were-not-yet-out-in-college-who-messed-you-around, but I will offer a statement on our behalf to whoever needs to hear it anyway: That was so, so f-cked up of us. We are so, so sorry.”

She also reflects on the angst and sorrow of being tapped to spread her grandparents’ ashes in Martha’s Vineyard, dives deep into why she’s considered having breast-reduction surgery, and, in three parts, unfolds the painful, turbulent story of her bond with her first boyfriend, who, over several years, moved in and out of her life and struggled with his sobriety. It was that relationship that Hauser found particularly difficult to put to paper—she remembered how much it hurt when they were together, and writing about him meant revisiting a specific, punctuating heartbreak. Still, throughout the collection, Hauser demonstrates that she’s unafraid to Go There areHer emotions are intense, especially when she goes through the painstaking details of her memories that involve lust, loss and longing.

Hauser spent her entire life following the story of fictional characters on screen and page. She’s seen all 11 seasons of It X-Files at least four times all the way through—not just because she’s into the mysteries, but more so because she can’t get enough of Mulder and Scully, her favorite onscreen couple. And she’s deeply attached to The FantasticksThe star-crossed lovers musical that she saw in concert with her first boyfriend. She positioned herself naturally as a fiction author, publishing her domestic novel The From-AwayIn 2014, climate-meets–family story Family of OriginIn 2019. Both were well received, if somewhat quietly—nothing like the impact of “The Crane Wife.”

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Hauser claims she was hesitant to take advantage of the piece’s success. “I was very stubborn about not wanting to write more nonfiction after that,” she says, “because everyone said they liked it better than the thing I spent five years working on.” But nonfiction is where her writing career technically began. While Hauser was an Undergrad at Georgetown in 2005, there was only one Creative Writing class. Each year she submitted fiction samples to the university, but was rejected every time. Her senior year, the year she finally got in, Hauser turned in a handful of real letters she’d written to her ex-boyfriend with the application. “I called it an epistolary story,” she says with a shrug. There was something there—something about the way she wrote what’s true.

Hauser was not lying when she claimed to be terrified by the literary spotlight. But, Hauser did notice a disturbing side effect of her viral success. She was startled to learn how many people related to her story about sacrificing her own needs for “love.” She did not expect that writing about one of the most shameful experiences in her life, allowing herself to be so minimized, would result in thousands of strangers on the internet saying they’d felt the same way. “If it’s just one person full of feelings in a bad situation, that’s an anecdote. But if it’s a bazillion people, what’s going on?” she says. “I’m worried about us.”

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It was not intended to become a huge hit. The idea was to bring some awareness. Family of OriginShe promoted it at the time as well. It was remarkable that it could break the saturated content landscape. Hauser attributes Hauser’s moment in the spotlight and our current conception of sharing art to her success. Placing a hand on Moriarty’s side, she dons her figurative professor hat. She explains that the canon is currently being disassembled. It has been too long since most writers had access to it. The world is pushing back against the concept of the classics—those works deemed important by legacy power structures. So we fill that void with our own references; we can connect over “Bad Art Friend” or an essay about personal needs and whooping cranes. And it’s especially meaningful when shared art, like “The Crane Wife,” can put to words a notion that so many have struggled to articulate, let alone fulfill: that you should never have to become less of yourself in order to be deserving of someone’s love.

It’s been three years since Hauser published the piece, and she’s quick to disclose that she’s still struggling when it comes to romance. “Someone suggested I do a love advice column,” she scoffs. “I was like, have you read this? I’m so bad at that.” But, even if it doesn’t contain a traditional “and they lived happily ever after” ending, her new collection presents a person who seems pretty confident in her understanding of what love can look like—and all the diverse shapes it should be allowed to take.

Hauser, Moriarty and I gather our belongings to go. As Hauser charts their route to the dog park at the heart of the park’s center, Hauser notices that a group of preteens are running about with foam swords. They’re stabbing each other, cackling, dashing between the trees. Hauser asks an adult counselor what’s happening. We’re told it’s a Percy Jackson–themed summer camp. I am elated that she has found yet another example of shared artwork, and she turns her attention to me. Then, she turns to the counselor: “Do you have room for someone in their 30s?”

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