“…it’s important to build resilience as well as excellence.”
This Q & A was originally a feature of our Binders Book List bi-weekly email newsletter, in which editor Julia Phillips interviews members of the Binders community who are releasing new books. These treasured Q & A sessions are just too good to relegate to the archives, so we are now sharing them on our blog. We’re featuring Esmé Weijun Wang.
My ideal reader adores the sound of words and sentences; is not afraid to spend time with characters who may or may not resemble them in any way; is more likely to love rather than hate the “whiteness” chapter in Moby Dick; is intrigued by the promise of having complex psychological states depicted in prose. Really, though, I’m happy to have any readers at all. Come one, come all, please.
You discuss mental health in your nonfiction writing and your regular advocacy. Does your approach to the topic shift when you incorporate it into fiction?
I write about mental health issues, and in particular schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder, with a great deal of specificity in my nonfiction because nonfiction seems to demand that kind of specificity. When pitching an editor, for example, using something nameable plays in my favor.
When I write about mental illness in fiction, on the other hand, I’m more likely to use descriptions of symptoms that don’t match a simple DSM diagnosis; I’m less likely to use or name a DSM diagnosis at all. In my experience, fiction seems to have more room for the gray areas of disordered thinking and behavior, which I’m thankful for because that tends to allow for a broader canvas upon which to depict the true experience of being, for lack of a better word, crazy. (“True experience,” by the by, being based on my own lived experience, as well as years of working in research psychology.) The Border of Paradise stays away from stating what, precisely, is wrong with David Nowak.
Beyond promoting your own writing, your website focuses on supporting other writers – through free courses, guided meditations, notes of encouragement and more. What motivates you to offer this kind of active support?
Being a writer, or any kind of creative, is hard – it’s important to build resilience as well as excellence – and my hope is that my offerings provide that kind of support for the community. The things I offer range from free, encouraging notes in your inbox – to workbooks about using obsessions and themes to provide creative fuel – to more high-level things, such as Rawness of Remembering, my signature program about restorative journaling. There’s something for everyone there.
Esmé Weijun Wang is an award-winning author and advocate. At esmewang.com, she provides resources that assist aspiring and working writers in developing resilience on the path to building a creative legacy. Wang’s emphasis on resilience originates from her own experiences as a writer, having learned the importance of adapting to difficult times from living with schizoaffective disorder and late-stage Lyme disease. She studied creative writing and psychology at Yale and Stanford, and received her MFA from the top-tier Creative Writing program at the University of Michigan. The author of The Border of Paradise (Unnamed Press, 2016), Wang has written for Catapult, Hazlitt, Lit Hub, Salon, and Lenny, and been written about in the New Yorker Online, Fusion, and the New York Times. She is currently, having won the 2016 Graywolf Nonfiction Prize, working on a collection of essays about schizophrenia. Find her e-letter, as well as the complimentary Creative Legacy Check-In, at esmewang.com/e-letter.
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WRITER INTERVIEW: JULIA PHILLIPS, POST EDITORS: ALICIA A. WALLACE, ANDREA GUEVARA, LEIGH STEIN
As our birthday week celebrations draw to a close we’d like to leave you with a few more nuggets of goodness. Together, we are making a difference in the careers and lives of women and non-binary writers. Here are two wonderful examples of the successes we love to see and hear about, in their own words:
“Since my very first BinderCon, I went from a small handful of regional publications to bylines in The New York Times, the LA Review of Books, The Rumpus, and Hobart, where my 2015 essay on Twin Peaks was a notable mention in the year’s Best American Essays collection!
I’ve gained the courage to ask for what I want and what I deserve, which has been one of the most important lessons I’ve ever been taught. I see my own value as a writer and can simultaneously map the directions in which I’d like to grow, basing these goals on other powerful women-identifying writers around me.”
“I’ve published personal essays online and made connections with a million Binders–who share and support my work daily. I’ve found editing jobs, been featured on another writer’s website, and been used as an article source. The agent I pitched at BinderCon NYC 2015 told me to pitch her future manuscripts, too!
Like I said, most of my friends are now Binders. I have learned so much about social justice, ally-ship, my passing privilege, how to be a decent person–and that’s not necessarily directed to writing. I’ve learned the importance of pitching, and that there is a market for personal essays, and to keep going. I’ve learned that writing full-time might even be a real possibility.”
Naseem has been an invaluable asset to our social media team and continues to give back to the organization by volunteering.
Want to get involved? Here are a few ways:
- Attend BinderCon NYC 2016 at Cooper Union NYU, October 29 & 30, 2016. Tickets are now available.
- Buy a BinderCon Support a Scholar scholarship ticket for a deserving scholar.
- Donate to the cause!
New York Times bestselling author and BinderCon keynote, Suki Kim has been getting a lot of press as of late, primarily surrounding racism, sexism, and what she considers to be the misbranding of her investigative narrative journalism book, Without You, There Is No Us: My Time with the Sons of North Korea’s Elite, as memoir. In the past few weeks she has been featured on BuzzFeed News, NPR’s Morning Edition, and FlavorWire.
In her recent essay, “The Reluctant Memoirist,” Kim took on racism and sexism in the publishing world.
“I really do not feel comfortable with my book being called a memoir,” I told her. “I think calling it a memoir trivializes my reporting.”
As the only journalist to have lived undercover in North Korea, Kim explores not only the decision to brand her book as memoir, but the backlash she received from journalists:
“In their eyes, it seemed, I was a memoirist treading on journalistic turf, a Korean schoolteacher who sold out her students for a quick buck.”
Kim was also recently featured on KCRW’s Press Play with Madeline Brand. You can listen to that interview here: How Journalist Suki Kim Became a Reluctant Memoirist.
Last November, Suki Kim was a keynote speaker at BinderCon NYC. Here are a few key video segments from her talk:
After putting out a call to our community for their success stories this week, we received this message from a three-time BinderCon attendee. We are sharing her letter with her permission.
It took a lot longer than I intended to get my thoughts on paper. It was impossible for me to describe in just a few sentences what BinderCon means to me because the truth is, it was the catalyst that empowered me, as a woman and as a writer, to change my life.
Two years ago I was a young mother who felt trapped in a life and a community that was oppressive and stifling. Growing up in an insular hasidic community, I didn’t know people who didn’t look like me, dress like me, or live like me, and I took for granted misogynistic and racist structures I was raised with; it was all I knew. At some point however, I became sorely disillusioned and I started questioning what I was taught to believe. I was forced to reevaluate and reconceptualize everything I thought I knew about the world and about myself.
I knew I wanted to be a writer, but I didn’t know how to go about having a career. I started looking for resources online, an infraction in a community whose rabbis had banned the internet, and I came across the kickstarter campaign for BinderCon in the summer of 2014. On impulse, I decided to support it and buy a ticket. It was an act of rebellion, almost. I had never before attended an event outside of the hasidic community, and I had no idea what to expect.
At the conference I discovered an entire new world. I didn’t understand much of the conversations during sessions and panels because most references to mainstream culture, media and literature were completely foreign to me. For the first time I was introduced to feminism and to issues like gender diversity, misogyny, racism, sexism and social justice. I came home with pages and pages of notes and I spent the next few months reading, researching, and educating myself.
Most important, for me, was the realization that diversity is a beautiful thing, not a threat. I also realized that identity is complex and evolving; something that one must define on their own, something that isn’t rooted in or dependent on communal expectation and approval. It was a long, difficult journey to find myself and be true to myself in an environment that values conformity above everything else, but I’ve never been happier.
As for my writing, I learned so much, from the basics of what a query is, what pitching is, to understanding how publishing works and how to network. I met wonderful, supportive writers who informed and bettered my work, and I am currently working on several projects I am very passionate about.
I am living a reality I never dreamed could be mine. I was in a particularly vulnerable space when I started searching for answers outside of the world I knew, and I am incredibly grateful that what I found at BinderCon was empowering and liberating.
Did you know that in the two years BinderCon has been around we’ve facilitated 1,158 pitch meetings? That’s 1,158 meetings between writers and agents, editors, and publishers. Every BinderCon offers the opportunity for attendees to add on Speed Pitch sessions to their agenda. Below are just some of the many success stories from pitch meetings at BinderCon.
A few pitch success stories:
Michelle Marie Robles Wallace pitched Arielle Pardes of Vice and sold the piece, “The Artists Using the US-Mexico Border as a Blank Canvas“!
Lisa Rabasca Roepe sold her story “Are Gen X Women Being Squeezed Out Of The Workplace” To Fast Company as a result of her Speed Pitch session with a Fast Company editor. Here’s what she had to say:
“Fast Company is a publication I read all the time but I never would have the guts to pitch them without the opportunity to speed pitch their editor at BinderCon. I am so thrilled to have pitched this article and then had this published on their site…This would not have been possible without the support of BinderCon. In fact, just about every one of my freelancing gigs can be traced back to the support I get from other Binders so thank you!”
Osayi Endolyn met her agent Monica Odem, of Bradford Literary Agency, at BinderCon, not only at Speed Pitch, but by happenstance sat right next to her in one of the panels sessions before as well. To read the full story of how they met, what made Osayi’s pitch stand out and more, read the full email feature.
Motivated to get your career of the ground? Join us for the 5th BinderCon this October in New York. Tickets are selling faster than ever so get yours now!
We’re always thrilled to see how our programming, support and efforts have helped women and non-binary writers, but it’s not every day we hear about a sister team! We hope you enjoy reading about the RossMottley sisters’ experiences at BinderCon:
I’ve gone to three Bindercon conferences so far and each and every time I have transformative experiences. I’ve been given countless opportunities to connect with women but more importantly women who write. Each time I make a new friend or network with a potential future colleague the foundation for my career becomes stronger and more dynamic. I haven’t done well with the traditional school structure in the past and I find this conference fills that educational space for me. These conferences really have been such a value to me that it can’t be quantified.
Bindercon has impacted my life in immeasurable ways; most significantly with the women I’ve been connected to through this semi-annual conference. I have no idea how I would have met writers who I now consider my mentors, my friends, and the people who inspire me to work hard and believe in myself on a consistent basis. Providing a space for women and gender non-conforming writers to get together, learn from each other, and help each other with their careers is vital. Having dropped out of university, I’ve decidedly been taking an alternative route to my goals. Out of the Binders has helped me get right back on track; especially with the practice pitch meetings. I was able to meet producers whose work I love and was given amazing advice and support. The general atmosphere of the two day event is so encouraging and inspiring! And importantly, it is still very realistic. The balance of the creative panels and workshops with the business ones is one that I personally really enjoy. I’ve made several incredible work connections from this conference that continue to grow. It may sound dramatic, but with complete honesty Bindercon has changed my life. I will always be very grateful to everyone who puts so much time and effort into making the conferences not only happen, but constantly improve. Thank you so much!
July is our birthday month and we’ll be celebrating all this week! Can you believe we’re only two years old? Not, bad for a toddler, huh?
Join us online and keep up with the latest happenings by following the #BinderConTurns2 hashtag.
Don’t forget, this week is your last chance to buy Early Bird Tickets to BinderCon NYC (Oct. 29 & 30, 2016 at NYU)!
Way back when (in 2014), when BinderCon was just a twinkle in Leigh Stein and Lux Alptraum’s eyes, there was the first Kickstarter campaign. MailChimp was the first sponsor to jump on board, helping make the very first BinderCon a reality. Thankfully, they have stuck with us through the four conferences we’ve produced since. Once again we’d like to thank MailChimp for furthering the careers of women and gender non-conforming writers across the globe.
We applaud MailChimp’s commitment to diversity and their support of BinderCon.
This LA BinderCon was, dare we say, our best yet and as we continue to learn and grow we hope MailChimp will continue to stay on as one of our founding sponsors.
Follow them on Twitter and Facebook. And if you’re building an email list get started with their email marketing platform for free.
Since it’s inception, BinderCon has had the backing of The Harnisch Foundation. We were honored once again to have their sponsorship support for BinderCon LA 2016. Each conference continues to grow and their generous support helps us to keep improving and expanding this movement.
One of our goals is to help women and gender non-conforming writers wherever they may be on this planet and The Harnisch Foundation stepped up once again to sponsor our livestream. What a livestream it was! This time we had viewing events/parties across the globe, from San Francisco to Jerusalem, Toronto to Florida, and so many more locales. Even better, our livestream viewership quadrupled from our last conference in November!
Yesterday, during the Being a Writer While Having a Life panel, moderator Julia Fierro jokingly asked whether anyone was really watching the livestream. Within seconds Twitter users responded from Berlin & Toronto that they were not only watching, but loved the panel.
The Harnisch Foundation is a stellar supporter of BinderCon, but they also support some pretty amazing initiatives as well, check just a few of them out:
and visit their website for so many more.
Once again, here is the inspiring video, played during our opening remarks on Saturday:
Hi, I’m Leigh Stein and I’m the co-founder of Out of the Binders.
Yes, we are a non-profit organization named for something Mitt Romney said one time.
Before I introduce our incredible keynote speakers, I want to talk to you briefly this morning about the power of stories.
Because the stories we’re exposed to shape our potential. Think of the messages young girls get from so many Disney movies: that our destiny as women hinges on the love of a prince. We are so often defined within the framework of our relationships: a woman is someone’s daughter, someone’s mother, someone’s wife.
Who is telling us these stories?
71% of TV writer staff jobs are held by men, and only 13.7% are held by minorities
Only 11.2% of the top grossing films of 2014 had a writing credit by a woman
When women win literary awards, it’s usually for writing from the male perspective or about men. The more prestigious the award, the more likely the subject is to be male. Since 2000, 0 women writing about women have won the Pulitzer Prize.
So what are we gonna do about it? This weekend at BinderCon we are giving women and gender non-conforming writers the tools, strategies, and connections they need to advance their careers, not just so that we can get paid to do what we love, but so that we can fundamentally change the cultural narrative about our own potential.
By showing up today, you are a part of this movement. The movement extends even beyond this room. Right now, as I am speaking, women are watching the livestream at viewing parties around the world from San Francisco to Jerusalem, in Missoula, Spokane, Toronto, Orlando, Cincinnati, and New York City.
The movement extends to our private Facebook community of 34,303 members. One of these members, Stephanie Land, is a single mother of two. A few years ago, she left her abusive partner and moved into a homeless shelter in Port Townsend, Washington, where her youngest daughter learned to take her first steps. Stephanie always knew she wanted to be a writer and, to support herself while going to college, she cleaned houses for a living, often vacuuming children’s bedrooms that were bigger than her own apartment, she says. She wrote about what she learned during the two years she spent cleaning houses in a piece for VOX and it went viral (you might have even read the piece). She also wrote for the New York Times about her daughter’s first steps. She is now able to support her family through her freelance writing career, and a fellowship she has writing for social and economic justice, through the Center for Community Change.
It gets even better: an editor at a major publishing house in New York is currently interested in Stephanie’s memoir, and she signed with a powerful agent just a week or two ago. When Stephanie sent me her book proposal, I saw in it that she credits the binders community—our community—for her writing career. The editor, the agent, the New York Times byline—all of this has only happened since last July.
It was members of the binders community who shared editor contacts and helped Stephanie learn to pitch, and through the binders community that she heard about the writing fellowship opportunity at the Center for Community Change. Stephanie’s incredible career success means economic security for her, but even more importantly, it means providing a narrative of low-income women from the source, and not from some privileged screenwriter’s imagination.
Right now, Stephanie is in Missoula Montana, speaking to the women who have come to attend the viewing party for BinderCon.
The gender disparity and sexism we experience in writing industries: it’s real. It’s not in our heads. But I can’t fix it by myself, and neither can you. So I ask you to think this weekend, not only about what you need to get ahead, but about what resources you have to offer to the community. Can you connect another binder to an editor? Can you offer to give feedback on someone’s pitch in the hallway? Can you smile at someone who is nervous for their turn to meet an agent? Can you connect me to a great sponsor for our next conference?
I opened with Mitt Romney and I’m going to close with a quote from JFK that goes a little something like this: “Ask not what your binder can do for you, ask what you can do for your binder.”
I must thank our generous sponsors who made this magical weekend possible. Thank you to the Harnisch Foundation who sponsored our livestream, making the work we do even more accessible to those who can’t afford to attend in person. Thank you to MailChimp, who totally gets what we’re doing, and has supported our work since our very first event in October 2014. Thank you to the Stephens College low res MFA in TV and screenwriting program, whose mission perfectly aligns with ours: they want to get more women writing for TV and film. And finally, we are very thankful for a grant from Amazon Literary Partnerships, which has helped us support our scholarship recipients this year with travel and childcare stipends.
Now, please enjoy a brief video from our wonderful friends at the Harnisch Foundation.