Q+A with award-winning author, founder of ‘Out of the Binders,’ and COD alum: Leigh Stein

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Q+A with award-winning author, founder of ‘Out of the Binders,’ and COD alum: Leigh Stein

Caroline Broderick, Features Editor

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To preview COD’s “Writers Read” event being held Oct. 13, Leigh Stein talked to our Features Editor, Caroline Broderick to discuss her latest book, her experience at COD, abusive relationships and charitable work Stein dedicates her life to.

Caroline: Can you tell me about your experience at COD?

Leigh: I went to Glenbard East high school, and I actually dropped out of high school. I hated high school so much. I started taking classes at COD, which I loved. So I started going to COD when I was 17. I took literature classes. I was in the honors program, and I got involved in the theater program as well. I was in the play “Brighton Beach Memoirs.” I took a directing class with Connie Canaday Howard and I really liked it at COD. I felt challenged and simulated. Then I moved to New York to go to acting school. I ended up moving back home with my parents again in Lombard. Then I auditioned for another play in 2007, and that’s where I met my ex-boyfriend. We ended up moving to Albuquerque, NM at that time. And that’s where [‘The Land of Enchantment’] is set, and it’s about our relationship.

 

C: What is your latest memoir about, and why is it so significant?

L: This is my new book called “Land of Enchantment.” It’s a memoir, a true story. It’s about this relationship I was in in my early 20s with this man named Jason, and it was an abusive relationship, but I didn’t recognize that at the time. It took me years to recognize what was going on because I thought it was just a very dramatic and exciting experience. We moved to Albuquerque together so I could write a novel and he could work, but then it just became this disaster. I was obsessed with him for years. I couldn’t quit him as much as he was bad for me in some ways. And I finally saw him for the last time in 2011 and decided this was really the end, and I was going to finally stop answering his phone calls. Six weeks after that he died in a motorcycle accident. The book is really about what it’s like to be a young person and lose someone for the first time, but it’s also about a psychologically abusive relationship, which is very hard for people to talk about because if someone’s not getting beaten up, it’s hard to see the signs of that kind of relationship and how damaging it can be.

 

C: What can students expect when they attend Writers Read?

L: I do want to talk about abusive relationships because October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and I’m looking forward to talking to college students because people under the age of 25 are particularly at risk for being in abusive relationships. So often the signs of these kinds of relationships can be mistaken for love. For instance, [when] Jason and I moved across the country together, we’d only known each other for six months. We’d never been to Albuquerque, but we left behind our families and friends. I thought that was very romantic, but in hindsight it was really like an isolation technique. So once I was far away from my family and friends, he became increasingly controlling and manipulative, and I didn’t have anybody I could turn to. Or if you have somebody saying, ‘I love you so much, give me your passwords, I want to see what you’re doing,’ that kind of looking over your shoulder, checking texts because they ‘love’ you so much, that’s really controlling and abusive. I’m happy to talk about those things, but also what to do if you see a friend going through this. It’s so hard for the person inside that relationship to see what’s going on. They don’t really get it. So you really have to be patient and say, ‘I’m concerned. How are you doing? If you need me, I’ll be here.’ You can’t be pushy or else they might stop speaking to you all together, and you really won’t know what’s going on.

 

C: How many books have you published?

L: I’ve written three books. I read at COD in 2012 when my first book came out, which is set in Lombard. It’s about a young woman who graduates from Northwestern and has to move back in with her parents. It’s relevant today because more young people than ever before are living back home with their parents. It’s called the ‘Fallback Plan.’ The same year, I had a collection of poetry called, ‘Dispatch from the Future’ come out.

 

C: Can you tell me about your Executive Directing position at ‘Out of the Binders?’

L: This is a nonprofit organization that I started in 2014. We advocate for women writers because there’s a lot of gender inequality in the writing industry and not a lot of people know about this, but 80 percent of movies are written by men, 71 percent of TV staff writers are men. Last year the New York Review of Books, only 20 percent were of women. And we know women are writing screenplays. They want to write for TV. They’re writing books, but this system is favoring men. We do two conferences a year that are professional development conferences. It’s not how to write, but really how to make a career and how to make a living out of being a writer, how to fight sexism in the industry. We’re named after Mitt Romney saying he had ‘binders full of women’ during the presidential campaign of 2012. We are the binders full of women writers, and the conference is called ‘BinderCon’. It’s kind of a joke of Mitt Romney saying he has binders full of us; we are the binders. We are trying to advance the careers of women writers. For example, one of our big success stories is that one of the members of our community was a single mom, living in a homeless shelter with her two daughters, and through our community she learned to write and pitch stories, and she got in the New York Times and the Washington Post, and she just sold her memoir for a lot of money. She’s now supporting her whole family just by writing full-time, and she credits the nonprofit community.

 

C: What’s your biggest advice for a female COD student aspiring to be a writer?

L: I think it’s about persistence and resilience. You’re going to get so many no’s. It’s just part of the game. The way you’re going to win, the way you’re going to succeed, is just by being stubborn and sticking with it, even up against all the no’s that you will face. For years, I’d been in writing workshops. So I connected with lots of writers. That’s another way to build community and stay accountable. I faced a lot of rejection. A lot of people said no before they said yes. It’s been a long journey to get where I am now.

 

C: What do you do besides write?

L: I recently moved to Connecticut, but I was teaching for Brooklyn Poets. Poetry is my first love, and that’s how I started off. I took poetry at COD with Freda Libman. She was my favorite COD teacher. She was an amazing poet and amazing teacher. I taught poetry, and I started teaching novels and memoirs. I teach in casual settings. I like teaching people like me who may not have a degree but have a real passion for this. That’s really fun for me, teaching people who dream of having a book published and are serious about it.

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