#59: Out of the Binders: An Interview with Leigh Stein by Matthew Daddona
October 16, 2014
Leigh Stein, author of The Fallback Plan, is tireless in the publishing sphere. Just recently, inspired by a Mitt Romney gaffe during the national debates, Leigh created Out of the Binders, a symposium that attracted women writers from all over the United States. The event was a huge success and encouraged the type of cultural/gender-related conversation writers have been beckoning for. I wrote to Leigh about this experience, and she responded with triumphant news.
The Internet and Twitter is abuzz with the #binders hashtag. Can you tell me about this hashtag and what Out of the Binders represents?
The binders movement began as a private Facebook community for women that has Fight Club style rules of secrecy, so I can’t say too much about it…but I will say that the group was the inspiration behind my conference and now my newly formed non-profit Out of the Binders, Inc. Our mission is to increase the diversity of voices in the media and literary arts, with a focus on women and gender non-conforming writers.
How does Out of the Binders plan on helping women writers? What are some of the strategies that have been proposed?
Our inaugural conference, BinderCon, happened at NYU last weekend, and it was jam-packed with professional development workshops and panels that addressed issues our community faces, such as lack of gender parity in newsrooms, and the struggles unique to writers who are also mothers.
I recall you saying that this symposium has become bigger than planned. What do you think help propelled this attention and interest? How do you think this symposium can fit into the larger conversation about publishing and literature?
We were at the right place at the right time. The yearly VIDA counts of gender disparity in major magazine bylines make everyone groan and complain but then…nothing changes. In response to those pie charts, I really wanted to create something pragmatic and we accomplished it: on Sunday morning, I had a room full of over 20 editors and agents, including editors from Harper’s and TheAtlantic.com taking pitches from over 100 women writers.
There were some amazing women who committed to speak: Jill Abramson, Anna Holmes, Emily Bell, Leslie Jamison, Amy King, among many others. How willing were these women to join your cause?
They were absolutely enthusiastic and gracious. Leslie was one of our earliest supporters; she even donated a lunch to help with our Kickstarter fundraiser. Alexis Gelber, a fantastic journalist and professor, was another early supporter of the event, and she went into her personal Rolodex to help us contact Jill Abramson and Emily Bell; their participation was a huge coup for us. We knew we had to involve VIDA and Amy King was our contact there from the very beginning, eager to help and participate.
What was the most surprising thing you learned from this inaugural conference? The most educating?
I was surprised by how well attended the workshops were. It was important to me to offer practical workshops, and we scheduled these in classrooms at the NYU Arthur L Carter Journalism Institute, but I had no idea how popular they would be! Women were sitting on the floor and lining up outside the door to be a part of these, and our workshop leaders (including agent superstar Janet Reid who runs the Query Shark blog [http://queryshark.blogspot.com/]) went above and beyond. Janet stayed two hours extra, just answering people’s questions. It was unbelievable. Lesson learned: next time, bigger spaces for workshops!
Will this be a yearly event? Are there subsequent plans for Out of the Binders?
Yes! We’re working on building our next dream, which is biannual conferences: one in Los Angeles every spring, one in New York City every fall. For updates, sign up for our mailing list: http://bindercon.com/bindercon-mailing-list/.
Leigh Stein is the creator of BinderCon, and the author of the novel The Fallback Plan and a book of poems, Dispatch from the Future. She is writing a memoir about death and the Internet called Land of Enchantment.
Matthew Daddona is an assistant editor at Plume, a founding member of the performance ensemble FLASHPOINT, and an editor at Tottenville Review. His most recent writing has appeared in The Adirondack Review, Electric Literature, Tin House, and Gigantic. He is currently finalizing a collaborative project based around synesthesia. He lives in New York City. You can follow him @MatthewDaddona.