Truth in Dares: Sherry Stanfa-Stanley, "Finding My Badass Self" at Literati


Sherry Stanfa-Stanley, Finding My Badass Self

Bare all: Sherry Stanfa-Stanley challenged herself to try something new every week of her 52nd year.

When one of the main things you know about someone is that she visited a nude beach, participating fully, with her mother, it is extremely difficult not to imagine that person naked.

You might as well surrender.

On Friday, August 24, Sherry Stanfa-Stanley came to Literati to read from and answer questions about her book Finding My Badass Self: A Year of Truths and Dares. I had read part of the book; a light and funny read that chronicles her quest to, in her 52nd year, try something new each week. I hadn’t quite expected to be, based on appearances, the youngest person in the room with the exception possibly of bookstore staff and my 13-year-old son. As we waited for the event to begin, I examined Stanfa-Stanley, and overheard her say casually, “No one expects perfection out of me.”

Someone had told me about this book, identifying it as something I might relate to as a serial project person. I looked at Sherry Stanfa-Stanley who wore jeans, a white t-shirt, and a button down foliage-printed shirt. I, too, wore a foliage shirt. If I believed we’d ever see a post-racial America, I’d think I was seeing my future.

Behind me, a gentleman asked a nearby woman, “What are you reading?

Her: Her book.
Him: That’s thoughtful!
Her: Why are you here?
Him: Seemed like an interesting talk.
Her: Humor.
Him: (laughs) Yeah, we need more of it.

When Stanfa-Stanley rose to speak, she gave an overview of her adventures. Right out of the gate, she mentioned the nude beach visit. At this point, my 13-year-old glanced over at me. Then she mentioned the time that she accidentally gave a rhinoceros an erection. My son leaned over, crossing his legs as if thinking, “Why have you brought me here?” Then, he whispered, “I’m only 13.”

He relaxed a bit when she informed the audience that her book has an Ann Arbor connection. She had attended a writers’ workshop in the area and hit it off with one the faculty members. Later, the two got together in New York. A conversation about Stanfa-Stanley’s projects pushed her in the direction of the 52 new things in 52 weeks idea.

She started off with a fluid list of things that she wanted to do during the year and began to blog about her adventures. There she noticed that the more awkward her experiences, the more interested her readers became. Stanfa-Stanley said, “[This] shows you guys are really a bunch of sadists."

Stanfa-Stanley read excerpts from her book including a story about the time she decided to fly to a random destination without first making plans and her experience trying to give a high-ropes course a try. Then she talked about the nude beach.

“Did your mom take off her clothes?” someone asked.

She did not. Later, an audience member jokingly lamented that the photo spread in the book didn’t show Stanfa-Stanley at the beach.

In response to audience questions, we learned that this project taught Stanfa-Stanley how to laugh at herself. It made her more comfortable asking for things. She worries less, saying, “I wouldn’t call myself fearless, but I’m desensitized a bit.” She also said that during the year of the project that she “learned a lot of truths,” and that she likes the book’s subtitle better than the title itself.

I gazed across the room and watched this crowd beam at the author. The looked proud. They looked like one of their own had figured out the secret to living well.

Immediately after the event, my son placed his hand on my shoulder and said earnestly, “We are never going to a nude beach together.”


Sherlonya Turner is the manager of the Youth & Adult: Services & Collections Department at the Ann Arbor District Library. She can be found diving headfirst into all sorts of projects over at sherlonya.net.