Member Profile: Sheila McMullin


When and why did you become a member of PEN Center USA?
I am an excited recent member of PEN Center USA—joining in April 2016. My dear friend, Rachelle Yousuf, wanting to help welcome me to the Los Angeles area, introduced me to all the local and broad benefits of becoming a member.

What is most meaningful to you about PEN Center USA?
Its dedication to amplifying diverse and emerging writers. Its mission to empower through creative guidance and community outreach.

PEN Centers share a Freedom To Write mission, which means we believe that people should be able to read and write freely. What does Freedom To Write mean to you?
It means dismantling hierarchies. Questioning why we hear some voices as “legitimate” and therefore inherently more valuable while we ignore other voices all together. It means expanding our personal and institutional understanding of writing that is necessary, identity-rattling.

Writers are using their digital media platforms to engage with readers and other writers on serious topics. Can you give an example of a writer or organization that is doing this well?
VIDA: Women in Literary Arts. Our online platform has been incredibly effective at contributing to and bolstering the conversation of gender parity in the literary field. Further, the work we do online has immediate and real impacts on the daily, lived experiences of people. It is incredible to have a robust, dedicated online presence that reaches people all over the world, but being able to contribute to your physical, local community is crucial too.

What is the one book you wish you had written and why?
Well, my all-time favorite/I always-return-to book is Alice Hoffman’s Green Angel. I hesitate to say I wish I wrote it because it has been essential to the making of my own writerly voice. Though, I do swoon particularly over Anne Carson’s “The Glass Essay” in Glass, Irony, and God, especially her soul-exposing Nudes. And Sam Chanse’s Lydia’s Funeral Home—I would be very proud if I wrote that book.

What is your favorite quote?
“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”—Arthur Ashe

Who would be your ideal literary dinner guest (living or dead)?
Sam Chanse. Audre Lorde.

What are you working on now?
I am in the last stages of finishing my first book of poetry titled daughterrarium, which will be published by Cleveland State University Poetry Center in 2017.

Sheila McMullin, poet and intersectional feminist, is the author of daughterrarium (2017), winner of the Cleveland State University Poetry Center First Book Prize. She serves as Managing Editor for VIDA: Women in Literary Arts and sits on the Count Committee for the VIDA Count Intersectional Survey. A community-based workshop leader, she facilitates creative writing workshops for all ages as well as college personal statement and scholarship essay writing sessions for high schoolers. She volunteers at her local animal rescue. She holds her M.F.A. from George Mason University. Find more about her writing, editing, and awards online at and follow her on Twitter @SheAPoem.

Listen to Sheila’s "Kingman Island, Anacostia Watershed" here.

Check out our past Member Profiles here.