Interview with Leigh Stein & NYFA at BinderCon NYC 2016

Interview with Leigh Stein & NYFA at BinderCon NYC 2016

“Take a look at the media you spend money on, and how much of it is by women or gender non-conforming writers.”

Out of the Binders is a non-profit devoted to advancing the careers of women and gender non-conforming writers by connecting them with the skills, knowledge, and networking opportunities they need to get ahead as authors, journalists, screenwriters, TV writers, playwrights, poets, and more.

Leigh Stein and Lux Alptraum co-founded Out of the Binders in 2014. Each year, the organization hosts BinderCon, a bicoastal professional development conference. During this year’s BinderCon NYC, Sarah Corpron, Acting Director of Business Services, will present as part of a session entitled Get the Yes: Crafting the Best Application for Residencies, Fellowships, Grants, and Workshops. She’ll provide an overview on NYFA’s Fiscal Sponsorship program, information on how this program might be of use to writers, and advice for writers seeking to fundraise for their own projects.

NYFA at BinderCon NYC
Location: Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute, New York University, 20 Cooper Square, 7th Floor, New York, NY 10003
Date: Sunday, October 30, 12 PM
Registration: Online ticket sales are now closed. A limited number of General Admission tickets will be on sale at the door for the day-of price of $350. Admission is limited to women and gender non-conforming people, though everyone is welcome to check out the panel videos.

We spoke with Leigh Stein, Executive Director of Out of the Binders, just before the kickoff of BinderCon NYC. Her essays have appeared in publications like the New York Times, BuzzFeed, and Salon. Stein has published the novel The Fallback Plan, a collection of poetry, Dispatch from the Future, and most recently, the memoir Land of Enchantment

Here, Stein discusses anti-procrastination techniques, supporting other writers, and the publishing industry’s gender disparity—as reported in the annual VIDA Count, compiled by VIDA: Women in Literary Arts

NYFA: What motivated you to co-found Out of the Binders?

Leigh Stein: Every year, I looked at the VIDA counts of gender by bylines in major magazines and literary journals and felt angry and powerless. I was also the member of a private Facebook group to support women writers that exploded overnight, and the answer came to me in the form of a conference. I thought if we could all get together in person, we could come up with tools and strategies for fixing those pie charts, and getting women and gender non-conforming writers better represented.


NYFA: You’re widely published in several different genres. What advice do you have for getting your work published? Do you have any tricks for staying organized and motivated when it comes to submitting your work?

LS: I think it can almost be an anti-procrastination strategy, to write in many forms and genres. Stuck on the novel? Write an essay. Stuck on the essay? Perfect opportunity for a poem! I started my writing career by submitting to journals, but I also cultivated a community, which is even more important. Making zines, starting a reading series (The Book Report, RIP), and attending conferences and workshops (AWP, Tin House, Key West Literary Seminars) were all ways I built my community.

NYFA: According to your bio, your work is “at the intersection of literature and activism.” How are writing and activism connected for you? How do you balance writing, advocacy, and the demands that come with being an Executive Director?

LS: I would like to say that I’m a “writer,” not a “woman writer,” but the fact is that I can’t separate my gender and my work. My own experiences of sexism and misogyny in my career, some of which comes from being a woman writing online, have motivated me to advocate for others, and create spaces where we can talk about our experiences, to feel less alone in our work and our lives. I am also conscious of my white cishet [cisgender & heterosexual] privilege and try to be intersectional in my work as a nonprofit leader, by ensuring our staff and our conference speaker lineup includes women and gender non-conforming writers of color, members of the LGBT community, and disabled writers. We’re still growing as a non-profit, so I rely on unpaid volunteers for a lot of our organizing, but when I do have the funds to pay for professional services, I hire women or gender non-conforming people whenever I can. 

When I go to a professional conference for women and see they’ve hired all-male AV staff, video crew, and photographers, I take note. I don’t know if I can say I balance it all, but I can say that I pay attention to the literary community I belong to, and look for ways I can step up and help amplify marginalized voices, as in the case of AWP [Association of Writers & Writing Programs]’s rejection of all disability panels last year, for example.


NYFA: A popular session at BinderCon is the Speed Pitch event, where writers can pitch editors, agents, and publishers. It’s rare to have an opportunity to meet an editor face-to-face, so do you have any thoughts on approaching and cultivating a good relationship with an editor?

LS: That’s a great question! Here’s a newsletter we did on one of our speed pitch success stories, including tips from the editor she met at BinderCon.

NYFA: How can those who care about gender equity and other forms of equity in publishing help bring about change?

LS: Take a look at the media you spend money on, and how much of it is by women or gender non-conforming writers. In my fantasy life, on Friday night I can go to the movie theater and choose between four movies written and directed by women. But in reality, it’s hard to even find one movie like that, so when we do hear of films or TV shows written by women, let’s support them! Buy tickets and show up. Buy books by women and buy them new, from independent bookstores that are women-owned (Greenlight Bookstore, McNally Jackson, and WORD, to name just three!) Leave reviews on Goodreads and Amazon, so more people can find out about the work you love and support. I think we have to show up for each other, if we want people to show up for us when it’s our turn.

Interested in NYFA Fiscal Sponsorship for your latest creative idea? We have free quarterly application deadlines; click here to learn more!

– Interview conducted by Mirielle Clifford, Program Associate, Online Resources

Images, courtesy of Leigh Stein, from top: Leigh Stein, photo credit: Brian Jacks; BinderCon NYC 2015; BinderCon LA 2016

Amy Aronoff
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