Member Profiles: Leigh Stein


When and why did you become a member of PEN Center USA?
I joined PEN Center USA this year after AWP in Los Angeles! Obviously I joined because of the sparkly gold Maya Angelou temporary tattoo giveaways. Okay, really I joined because I am so impressed by the work PEN Center USA does to mentor, support, and highlight the work of writers!

What is most meaningful to you about PEN Center USA?
The Emerging Voices Fellowship is one-of-a-kind and really offers unparalleled support for writers at a crucial time in their development.

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?
I’ll answer this from a psychological point of view…I meet so many women writers waiting for someone to give them permission to tell their story. They’re worried about what their family or coworkers will think of what they put on the page. But that’s paralyzing. There has to be this internal liberation in order to be able to tell the stories that haven’t yet been told, and then courage to face the reaction.

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?

Shout out to Brooklyn Poets for having the most dynamic, engaged community of poets I’ve ever seen. They even built a social networking site for poets:

What is the one book you wish you had written and why?
I’ve never thought of a book I wish I’d written.

What is your favorite quote?
“I wasn’t lucky. I deserved it.”—Margaret Thatcher, winning a prize as a child.

Who would be your ideal literary dinner guest (living or dead)?
Elena Ferrante please!

What are you working on now?
Organizing BinderCon NYC for October 29 and 30 at Cooper Union, a historic venue that was also the birthplace of the Red Cross and the NAACP, and witness to the beginnings of the women’s suffrage movement.

Leigh Stein is the author of three books, including the new memoir Land of Enchantment. Her writing has also appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Allure, Poets & Writers, BuzzFeed, Salon, and Slate. She is the executive director of the nonprofit organization Out of the Binders, and lives in Norwalk, CT.