Meet Ava Chin, Author of Eating Wildly

AvaChin200We sent out a survey asking the same questions to our speakers to help you get to know them better. Here’s Ava Chin, who will be participating in the panel called Double Whammy: Women Writers of Color Discuss Challenges and Strategies, on Sunday at 3:30 in the Tishman Auditorium.

In a few sentences, who are you?

I’m a native New Yorker and the author of the memoir Eating Wildly: Foraging for Life, Love and the Perfect Meal, about the ways that foraging for food in urban natures altered the way that I interacted with my hometown, my family, as well as myself. For several years I wrote the Urban Forager column for the New York Times about the wild edibles flourishing throughout our region (now I do it at www.avachin.com), and I’m currently an associate professor of creative nonfiction and journalism at the College of Staten Island-CUNY.

Describe one moment, event, person, relationship or other thing that put you on the path to becoming a writer, or told you that this was going to be your career.

When I was an undergraduate at Queens College, my creative writing professor told me that my father’s absence was the wound that made me a writer. Back then, I was constantly writing about daughters trying to reconcile with their families and meeting their fathers for the very first time. But what really turned me into a writer was having a very colorful family full of people who love to talk!

What’s essential for your work routine, ie. early morning start, some type of music, clean teeth, a looming deadline?

I need to wake up in the early morning to a clean desk in order to write—and playing Phillip Glass certainly helps (it’s truly Pavlovian—I hear his music and I feel compelled to work). Lately, my work-life balance has been in a bit of a shambles due to my becoming a mother of a very active toddler. Her toys have overtaken our living space, including my desk. It’s impossible to work from home these days and I usually have to hightail it out to a café or a library.

 After casting a glance at our program, who’s another speaker you’re excited to see at Out of the Binders and why?

Um, everyone? Seriously, I’m so impressed with all of the speakers, from the featured ones to the panelists, that I just want to run up to everyone, introduce myself, and give the writer a big hug.

Why do you think this Out of the Binders conference needs to exist?

Women writers need in-the-flesh role-models and spaces to network and interact. BinderCon is kind of like “A Conference of One’s Own.”

What’s one link, aka URL, you’d give to someone who wants to read or find out more about your work?

You can find out more about what I do, and about Eating Wildly, on my site www.avachin.com. There I showcase the edible plants and mushrooms that I encounter all across New York City, as well as give tips about the writing life for emerging writers, including how to stay sane during book tour during a family crisis.

Let’s get people connected with you!

Twitter: @AvaChin
Website: Ava Chin
Facebok: Ava Chin


Sponsor Shout Out: WAM!


Women, Action and the Media, better known as WAM! is a people-powered independent nonprofit dedicated to building a robust, effective, inclusive movement for gender justice in media. They are also BinderCon’s fiscal sponsor, and we couldn’t have done it without their generous contribution and guidance!

Across the country (and Canada!), WAM! fights for women to be present and represented in journalism, TV and film, comics, video games and music. Through the local chapters, casual meet-ups, panel discussions and more, WAM! connects women with each other, building professional support networks.

Have you attended a WAM! event? If not, check out their website to find a chapter in your area and try it out! You can also like them on Facebook, and get updates via Twitter. Here are two upcoming events from the WAM! world, both great ways to dive in and get involved:

  • WAM!’s first Seattle Happy Hour meetup is happening Oct. 7th at 5:30 at The Bar at Central Cinema. RSVP to go get “happy” with your people!
  • The In/Visibility of Black Women film screening and panel discussion on Oct. 4th in Santa Monica, CA, will discuss the way racist stereotypes devalues the lives of Black women and girls. In the wake of Michael Brown’s killing and the trial of Renisha McBride’s killer, the panel will also discuss how mainstream media criminalizes victims.

Talking to Leslie Jamison

Leslie Jamison is the author of the New York Times–bestselling essay collection The Empathy Exams. She’s also a novelist (The Gin Closet), a Ph.D. candidate in American literature at Yale, and a writing teacher at NYU’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute. Writer and BinderCon Director of Outreach Alison B. Hart caught up with her at City Bakery to talk to her about empathy, self-doubt, gender skews, and why she’s excited to open BinderCon with her keynote address on Saturday at 10 a.m. in Cooper Union’s Great Hall.

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and a bit for clarity.

Out of the Binders: Can I ask you a little bit about the National Book Award? The nonfiction long-list came out yesterday and I think a lot of people felt strongly that you should be on it. But even more than that, some people were upset there was only one woman on the list. How did you react to the under-representation of women on that particular list?

Leslie Jamison: Yeah, it is troubling to me to see a list generated in a year where there were so many incredible books of nonfiction written by women. This year I felt particularly aware of that because I was in the world of publication and getting sent a lot of books—a lot of books were crossing my path that were really interesting—but I’m sure it’s been true in any other year.

I know the work of judging is hard, and I know that there are a million variables that go into how these things happen, but it just seems impossible for me to believe that any collective understanding of the ten best works of nonfiction written for this year would be nine of them written by men. It feels wrong to me. And I would also say, there were two other skews that were as troubling to me as the gender skew, and one was a more longstanding kind of genre issue around what the National Book Awards think of as serious nonfiction, which really does privilege history, certain kinds of archivally-based cultural studies. I’m not looking at the list so I don’t want to speak too definitively, but it’s been my impression that there’s not as much memoir or essays.

For that reason it was really exciting that—and Alexander Chee wrote a great piece about this, too—but it was exciting to me that Roz Chast was on there, not just so it wouldn’t be 100% men, but also so we would see some sort of formal experimentation on there. When I think of works by women that I would have loved to see on that list, like Jen Percy’s book or Eula’s new book, part of why I find them exciting is because they are doing a lot more with form and genre, I think, than the books that are on that list. And then the other thing is just the skew toward big presses. One of the things that’s been exciting about a lot of awards in recent years: they really are understanding the value of what small presses are bringing to literary culture. Especially with nonfiction, I think small presses serve a really important role.

This kind of self-perpetuating mythology around what people want to read really streamlines what big presses want to publish. I feel 100% sure that The Empathy Exams never would have sold to a big press, and it’s obviously not because it couldn’t sell well, because it did. So there’s this sense [among big presses] of, “Well we know what the market likes,” which in turn dictates what the market is allowed to like.

You know, you’ve got that line in The Empathy Exams: “You court a certain disdain by choosing to write about hurting women.” Do you think that’s relevant at all?

You know, I really … I couldn’t speak to that. But one thing that I can say is it’s been really interesting to me to see just the range of critical responses to the book and how I feel that many reviews of the book were really participating in a conversation, wittingly or unwittingly, with that last essay [in The Empathy Exams, “Grand Unified Theory of Female Pain”]. I think a lot of people when they respond to the book critically, I can sort of sense in their reviews this real level of irritation with the person they have imagined me to be, which I think is inevitable—and I get that and don’t take it that personally—but there was one review that said, like, “I’ll read what she writes next, but I would never want to go out into dinner with her.” Stuff like that that feels like it’s about this sense of being a whiny woman and that you were just relentlessly going on about your damage. And whatever nerve ending gets touched, for either men or women, it was kind of an embodiment or a manifestation of what I was trying to put my finger on in that last essay.

I like the way you crowd-sourced different women’s opinions of female pain in that essay too. I felt like I could have been a friend you had crowd sourced, too.

The whole experiencing of crowd-sourcing was really interesting. It did set in motion a lot of dialogues with friends—even women that I knew very well—where we were talking very specifically about stuff in a way that we hadn’t before. It made me feel like I could think about writing in a different way, too, that every essay would set up its own set of challenges and questions and I could go about responding to those challenges and questions any way that I wanted.

One of the things that I like about the tradition of academic writing—it can get tedious when you’re reading a piece of academic writing when it’s, like, touching base with everybody who’s ever had a thought about prayer shawls in Chaucer or whatever—but I do think there’s a real spirit there of collective knowledge and a sense of generating a piece of knowledge that is part of a web of other pieces of knowledge. And for me it pushes back against an impulse to understand myself as sort of a lone gorilla who’s tackling huge questions for the first and only time. Never the case.

How early in the process of writing the book did you know that empathy was going to be the thread?

I’d probably written about half the essays that showed up in the book before I wrote the title essay. In the process of then clarifying empathy as a conceptual keyword or center, it was liberating to see that what I had thought of as very separate fascinations that I was following—things like why people would subject themselves to the physical extremities of ultrarunning; or what might be redeemable, if there was anything redeemable, in a tour of silver mines; things that were very far apart on the map—did have these common questions about how do we try to make meaning out of pain or understand other people’s pain.

How did that change the last half of the work?

In some ways it gave me impetus to move forward on projects that I had just conceptualized or thought it would be amazing to write about. Like that piece on Morgellons disease [“Devil’s Bait”] had been an idea and a hope that I’d had, but once I had this sense of what the book would be, and also once Graywolf had purchased the book (because almost everything I wrote, I wrote on spec), it helped me to go out on a limb financially and trust-wise. It helped to go out on a limb for certain pieces to know that they would have a home in a book no matter what. But the downside was, when I wrote the first draft of the Morgellons piece, the word empathy showed up 45 times or something like that. So there was this way that once I had it in mind for a guiding concept, it was always, like, knocking at the door. It was almost kind of oppressive in terms of how its footprint was all over the book, so I had to exercise restraint in trying to just let it be this force moving underneath the pieces, not completely dominating them.

You still write so well and beautifully about empathy. I saw it coming up in the “52 Blue” essay [published by The Atavist in August 2014]. Do you feel like empathy will still be your beat for a while?

Yeah, I have joked with various people in my life, about the next book just being More Empathy Exams. Empathy is a pretty wide-ranging concept insofar as it’s so much more about how we encounter other lives. I think it will keep coming up for me, I’m sure. But I am interested in following other kinds of questions and other kinds of paths and just thinking even about different ways that a collection could be structured. Like the [next] collection that I am working on, I’m thinking much more about the relationship between private experience and more public acts of writing and thinking in particular about the way that private emotional experience inflects the process of doing journalism, how every journalistic piece also has this shadow story, whatever the radically subjective experience that act of journalism was.

In the Slate review of the book, I thought Mark O’Connell said something really interesting. He was saying how thrilling it is “to encounter a writer who so elegantly incorporates her own writerly anxieties into her work, who is so composed and confident about the value of her own self-doubt.” He’s getting at something that is about why everybody is so taken with the book, so it’s obviously working. But I wonder if there’s a flip side for you. Does it feel penalizing in any way that you’ve come out with the anxieties and the self-doubt?

I do think that owning certain kinds of fear and vulnerability, for me at least, does mainly dissolve its power. Owning what my perspective is and the ways in which that perspective is contoured by certain sorts of fear and anxiety and uncertainty, that almost feels like a position of strength to me. Because what makes me feel weak is a feeling of fraudulence or trying to be something for somebody else that I’m not, and that’s what makes me feel kind of scared and frantic inside. When I’m just representing where I feel certain, where I feel uncertain, where I feel called to emotional dimensions of my gaze, it feels like I’m not trying to be anything for anyone and that’s why that’s like a strength. It’s less that I feel absolutely certain of the value of my own self-doubt, and more that there is no other position that I feel comfortable occupying.

I read The Paris Review interview and it was interesting when you were talking about when you were feeling gender start to play a role in these conversations, and that you didn’t notice it until Yale and in the world of academia. I’m curious, why there?

Part of it might have to do with the fact that academia privileges a kind of discourse that makes me feel uncomfortable, or can privilege a kind of discourse that makes me feel uncomfortable, which is to say very oppositionally driven. If somebody offers a point, somebody else challenges that point. And it’s not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s a way of speaking that tends to make me feel insecure, I think because I am very quick to doubt myself in certain ways, and so I respond much better to people who, sort of, not like knee-jerk affirm everything I say but …

Entertain a line of thought….

Yeah. And then I can build it and explore it and sink down into it. So it could be that academia brought up some of my own insecurities and then I became hyper-sensitized to dynamics that I had blithely skated through before. But also it was a place where I started to look at these things—and I don’t like being reductive about eliding the difference between correlation and causation and stuff like that—but I would just look at rooms and it seemed like most of the people who are speaking in this room are men. And I don’t know if there’s a coherent reason for that, or what play of kind of conscious and subconscious variables are in common to that, but I’m noticing that that was happening. And it was the first place where I’ve really been struck by that.

It makes sense to me that more men are reading your work now than were before, just because women read all the novels and now you’ve got this New York Times bestseller nonfiction book. Do you think about it? Or are you able to just shut your mind out to those types of issues?

It’s funny. Anecdotally, one thing that I always like about the fact that I’ve written the piece about the Barkley, the ultramarathon [ “The Immortal Horizon”], it did mean that that piece got very circulated in quite a small niche community, which was the ultrarunning digital community, which is, like, all men. A lot of them read the novel because they got really interested in, “Oh, who is this person who wrote about Barkley?” I kind of love the idea of these super-athletic, highly driven, highly trained men almost unawares stumbling into this deeply emo, feelings-driven novel about two women. I felt like I’d almost Trojan-horsed them into reading this other kind of work.

With certain pieces I think I subconsciously am probably imagining a gender for my audience. I do think I wrote “Grand Unified Theory of Female Pain” more for women than for men. That’s sort of the way I needed to write that essay, and I think the crowdsourcing was part of it, that I felt like I was almost just in conversation with the women who had become a part of the conversation with me. But I certainly love the idea of men reading that essay. Certainly some of the most interesting responses I’ve gotten to it have been from men, and I’m always interested in engaging with those responses. It’s very important to me to think about essays as not an autonomous event, but the seed or a kernel inside of a larger series of conversations around it, so I’m interested in how that piece got received by a variety of gender viewpoints.

You were an early supporter of Bindercon. It was great that you lent your name to the Kickstarter effort and you agreed to speak. Why was it important for you to support BinderCon, and what does it mean to you?

I feel like … questions of gender and how gender inflects the publishing industry … there still are gendered issues that we need to face, and those sorts of forces are operating in really complicated ways. And for me, that means that I’m still working through what I think and feel about how I want publishing to evolve and how I want some of the ratios that feel really troubling—or the VIDA count numbers that feel troubling—like, what I think should happen to make those better. The fact that it’s a live issue is part of why I feel really excited about the idea of a bunch of women coming together to talk about it. I think the fact that I have spent more time on the literary circuit in the recent past than I was before has made me aware of the ways in which, especially being a young woman, I do think you get treated differently in all sorts of ways that sometimes are explicit enough that you feel like “Oh, well, that’s now self evident and tangible and palpable in the room” and sometimes are much more subterranean. And for that reason I love having a space where this whole range of female voices are being given platform and an environment in which to be taken seriously.


Sponsor Shout Out: Follow These TinyLetter Newsletters

TinyLetter_WordmarkTinyLetter is a personal newsletter service brought to you by the people behind MailChimp. Some of our favorite writers use it to send updates, digests, and dispatches to their fans and friends.

In addition, TinyLetter is a generous sponsor of BinderCon, and we’re grateful for the generous contribution they’ve provided to make this conference possible. Want to show your gratitude? Check out what they have to offer!

Have something to say? TinyLetter is a great platform for getting your message out to the world. Need some help to get things going? Rebecca Greenfield has some tips on how to make your newsletter really stand out. One hot tip: “A newsletter is different than a publication. People like informality.”

More interested in being a newsletter recipient? Here are some recommended TinyLetter newsletters to get you might enjoy:

  • Get in on the ground floor with MSNBC’s social media manager Nisha Chittal’s brand new This Week in Lady News (now she has to keep it up!).
  • Hardly Working by Rena Tom, founder of co-working space Makeshift Society and Market Editor at Anthology Magazine, gives you one thing to read, eat, covet, or meet every newsletter. And she has great taste.
  • Veteran digital campaigner and social media guru Laura Olin’s everything changes promises a “newsletter with a different format, theme, and frequency every week.” Variety is the spice of life.
  • Sarah Jeong and Parker Higgins’s 5 Useful Articles makes intellectual property news actually interesting. Promise.
  • Links I would gchat you if we were friends by Caitlin Dewey of The Washington Post is a wide-ranging daily roundup.
  • Charlotte Shane’s Prostitute Laundry gets personal, hot, and heavy. Perfect for reading on public transit.
  • The Ann Friedman Weekly, a weekly dispatch from the popular writer for NYmag.com, The Hairpin, ELLE and so much more. There’s a reason this is one of the most popular newsletters on TinyLetter – sign up to receive it, and see for yourself!

Required Reading: Links of the Week

Found time to write? (Eric Parker/Flickr)

“Exercise the writing muscle every day” -Jane Yolen (Eric Parker/Flickr)

Here are the best links the BinderCon crew found this week about women, the written word, media and…whatever we like.

The New York Times’ TV critic got it wrong (again) when she decided to evaluate the work of creator, screenwriter, producer and director Shonda Rhimes solely through the racist construction of the “angry black lady.” Willa Paskin at Slate and Kara Brown at Jezebel had some choice words for why relating everything to the stereotype diminished Rhimes’ weighty work and was, ultimately, beside the point. Here’s Brown:

It’s just boggling that a New York Times television critic is unable to write about black women without calling upon three of the oldest racist stereotypes about black women. What is spectacularly ironic is that Stanley, after using descriptions that necessarily relate to race, later suggests that Rhimes’ and her characters are not even concerned with race.

Not unrelated: Anna Silman at Vulture writes how few women are actually working behind the camera in TVOITNB notwithstanding, and how it’s getting worse.

According to the annual “Boxed In” report from the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University, women make up only 27 percent of the behind-the-camera workforce in broadcast television, down 1 percent from the previous season. Meanwhile, women make up only 42 percent of onscreen broadcast speaking roles, a 1 percent decline from last season.

Jeanne Whalen over at the Wall Street Journal wrote about slow reading clubs that helped people read without distraction.

Slow readers list numerous benefits to a regular reading habit, saying it improves their ability to concentrate, reduces stress levels and deepens their ability to think, listen and empathize.

Ron Charles at The Washington Post is wondering where all the women are in the National Book Award nonfiction long list, and frankly, we are too.

Objective-sounding words like “quality,” “depth” and “significance” were, for centuries, defined in ways that privileged certain kinds of writing (and excluded certain kinds of authors). It’s no coincidence that great books are described as “seminal” instead of “ovular.” Publishing has come a long way, but as the sharp-eyed readers at VIDA keep reminding us, we have a long way to go.


Roman Mars, host of the great design podcast 99% Invisible, compiled a list of good woman-hosted podcasts he listens to, addressing how women tend to get overlooked in lists. [full disclosure: I’m interning at one of the podcasts.] When you’re not writing, listen to them!

I’m so proud of that and honored to be presented and championed by journalists and podcast fans. I can’t help but notice that we’re always grouped with a whole bunch of other male-hosted shows, so I thought I’d present my favorite podcasts hosted (or at least co-hosted) by women, since they don’t always receive the same amount of attention.



Meet Poet Jacqueline Jones LaMon

We sent out a survey of the same eight questions to our speakers to help you get to know them better. Here’s Jacqueline Jones LaMon, who will be speaking at BinderCon on Saturday at 2 p.m. at the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute as part of the panel Second Acts: Creative Writing as a Second Career.

In a few sentences, who are you?LaMon200

Jacqueline Jones LaMon is the author of two collections, Last Seen, a Felix Pollak Poetry Prize selection, and Gravity, U.S.A., recipient of the Quercus Review Press Poetry Series Book Award; and the novel, In the Arms of One Who Loves Me. A graduate of Mount Holyoke College and UCLA School of Law, Ms. LaMon earned her M.F.A. in Creative Writing, Poetry, from Indiana University Bloomington.

Ms. LaMon’s work has appeared in a wide variety of publications such as Ninth Letter, Mythium, Bellevue Literary Review, Callaloo, and Crab Orchard Review. Noted by the NAACP in the category of Outstanding Literature, Poetry, Ms. LaMon is the recipient of a host of honors for her commitment to university teaching, her social and literary criticism, as well as for her creative work. She lives in Brooklyn, New York and teaches at Adelphi University.

Describe one moment, event, person, relationship or other thing that put you on the path to becoming a writer, or told you that this was going to be your career.

I knew that I wanted to pursue writing as a full-time endeavor the moment I realized that I love the process of creating books, even if some of those works ended up never being published.

What’s essential for your work routine, ie. early morning start, some type of music, clean teeth, a looming deadline?

My answer to this question has changed as I’ve changed. At this point in my life and career, I would say that the only essential is that my willingness and cooperation be present, that I breathe, and that I find the courage to rise above any self-imposed or artificially created barriers to my creativity. I used to say that I needed to write at a certain hour; I now know that I am able to write at all hours, whether rested or exhausted, whether focused or scattered. The nature of the writing will differ, of course, but sometimes we need that kind of disruption to alter our expectations of ourselves and our work. I am able to draft with a fancy pen, a #2 pencil, or a keyboard synced to my iPad. I write daily. I try to write early in the morning, but if that doesn’t happen, I discover mini-moments in the corners of my day.

After casting a glance at our program, who’s another speaker you’re excited to see at Out of the Binders and why?

Tayari Jones—because she’s a brilliant novelist and a generous artist.
Rachel Eliza Griffiths—because her poetry and photographs send electricity through my being.

Why do you think this Out of the Binders conference needs to exist?

This conference needs to exist because silence between women is lethal. We must communicate our experiences, share our contacts, and support each other in our struggles to survive and thrive.

What’s one link, aka URL, you’d give to someone who wants to read or find out more about your work?

This is a link to my personal website. Come visit!

Let’s get people to connect with you: what’s your Twitter handle/Facebook page/website?

My Twitter handle is @jajolamo

My Facebook page is here.

Anything else?

Let’s Do This.


Meet Elisa Albert, Author of After Birth

ElisaAlbert200We sent out a survey asking the same eight questions to our speakers to help you get to know them better. Here’s Elisa Albert, who will be speaking at BinderCon on Saturday at the Great Hall at Cooper Union at 11:30 a.m. as part of the panel Mothers Writing Motherhood.

In a few sentences, who are you?

Author of The Book of Dahlia, How This Night is Different, and the soon to be published After Birth.  Only as good as whatever I’m working on.

Describe one moment, event, person, relationship or other thing that put you on the path to becoming a writer, or told you that this was going to be your career.

High school English teacher Mr. Bellon, college profs poet Mary Campbell and novelists Stephen McCauley and Jayne Anne Phillips.  Grad school mentors Binnie Kirshenbaum and David Gates.  All these people looked me in the eye and said some version of “You are for real.  Keep writing.”  And so I kept writing, with that precious sense of being artistically “parented”.  I needed that.  Their belief in me allowed me to indulge the possibility that I might consider believing in myself.

What’s essential for your work routine, ie. early morning start, some type of music, clean teeth, a looming deadline?

If only there were foolproof conditions.  Sometimes I need to stretch and breathe, sometimes I need to walk, sometimes I need to run.  Sometimes I need music loud, sometimes I need it soft.  Sometimes I need silence.  Sometimes I need a nap. Sometimes I need to read something I love.  Sometimes I need food or a drink.  Sometimes I need a break.  Sometimes I need to push myself harder.  Sometimes I need to go away for a few days.  Sometimes I need to fart around on social media.

After casting a glance at our program, who’s another speaker you’re excited to see at Out of the Binders and why?

I’m looking forward to hearing what my fellow panelists have to say; all are writers I admire.  I’m excited to soak up the energy in general; it’s an interesting movement and moment.

Why do you think this Out of the Binders conference needs to exist?

If we don’t take each other seriously and read each other’s work in earnest, how can we possibly complain about our fate/status in the larger literary community?  It’s incumbent upon us to simply have the conversations we want had, write what we want read, celebrate the work we want celebrated, raise our voices about what matters and why.

What’s one link, aka URL, you’d give to someone who wants to read or find out more about your work?


My friend, the artist Orli Auslander, did the drawings for my site.  I love her sensibility.  She’s working on a graphic memoir.  I can’t wait to read it.

Let’s get people to connect with you: what’s your Twitter handle/Facebook page/website?

twitter: @Eeeeelisaalbert

instagram: @elisatamar

Anything else?

Instagram is my favorite social media.  My breathing gets really shallow when I’m on twitter for any length of time.

I just read Anya Ulinich’s LENA FINKLE’S MAGIC BARREL in two days and didn’t want it to end.

Everything Jeanette Winterson says about writing/writers strikes me as dead right.  Her essay collection ART OBJECTS is a gift.


“Where Are the Women?” Anna Griffin Asks Journalism

“You can’t just wait for the end when you have an opening for editor and say, ‘We need to find a woman,’ ” says Anders Gyllenhaal, vice president for news at McClatchy. “You have to be thinking about this when you choose your next metro editor, when you choose your political writer, when you pick your columnist. You have to be thinking about it when you go to college campuses and look for summer interns.”

“Where Are the Women?” asks Anna Griffin over at Neiman Reports.  While much of what Griffin uncovers shows us that diversity in journalism has stalled for the last few decades (and not just for women), she also found evidence that the women who do make it to management roles in journalism are getting less shy about pushing diversity in the newsroom.



Speaker Survey: Meet Lisa Levy of Dead Critics

We sent out a survey of the same eight questions to our speakers to help you get to know them better. Here’s Lisa Levy, who will be speaking at BinderCon on Saturday at the Arthur L Carter Journalism Institute at NYU at 10 a.m., as part of the panel called Dear Reader, I Reviewed It

LisaLevy_200In a few sentences, who are you?

I am a book and cultural critic based in Brooklyn, and the Mystery/Noir editor at the LA Review of Books. Current and past preoccupations include psychoanalysis, pop culture, American intellectual history, genre studies (particularly of the essay), and, of course, noir and detective fiction.

Describe one moment, event, person, relationship or other thing that put you on the path to becoming a writer, or told you that this was going to be your career.

I got published in Highlights magazine when I was eight. It was a poem called “Orange,” which is still my favorite color.

What’s essential for your work routine, ie. early morning start, some type of music, clean teeth, a looming deadline?

I work best when I have a lot of projects going on at once: usually one long piece, a few short ones, some pitches brewing, and the constant treadmill of editing and assigning.

After casting a glance at our program, who’s another speaker you’re excited to see at Out of the Binders and why?

I’m excited to see Leslie Jamison, as I thought The Empathy Exams was great. I’m also interested in the practical stuff, like Laura Shin’s workshop on freelancing/not working for the man.

Why do you think this Out of the Binders conference needs to exist?

Gosh, so many reasons. I think women need to be reminded over and over again that self-promotion is not bragging, but is necessary to make a name and a life for oneself. I think women need to do more to be resources for each other and share our experiences as writers, general and specific. I showed my husband a post I wrote on a Binder asking for advice and the amazing response. He said, “Wow, when you take the men out you really get past the bullshit and straight to the good stuff.” That pretty much sums it up.

What’s one link, aka URL, you’d give to someone who wants to read or find out more about your work? 

One link, so hard! What a Sophie’s Choice. I’ll give it to this essay [From The Believer], which is a piece about Elizabeth Hardwick whom I passionately admire.

Let’s get people to connect with you: what’s your Twitter handle/Facebook page/website?

Twitter: @reallivecriticFacebook and website Dead Critics.

Anything else?

I cannot emphasize enough how much Binders has changed my attitude toward my career. I feel better about being a writer now than I have in years, and like the possibilities are infinite if you are willing to work hard and break down some doors (or knock very loudly). I’m grateful for and awed by this community of formidable women.

I also really like monkeys wearing clothes, so I highly recommend this blog.


Talking to Jenny Lumet

JennyLumet200Jenny Lumet captured our hearts with her first screenplay, Rachel Getting Married, which won the 2008 New York Film Critics Circle award. She’s been writing ever since, while also trying to level the playing field for other writers who happen to be women and minorities. We caught up with Lumet as she and five other moms hung out with their kids in a New York City playground, to talk about upending the status quo, her unceasing optimism, and her participation in the BinderCon Writing for TV and Film panel.

Out of the Binders: How does it feel to be universally loved by women everywhere as a result of your screenplay?

Jenny Lumet: I had absolutely no idea until you just said that! (laughs) I know that the movie did well and people liked it. And I’m glad I was able to reach people. The whole idea of Binders illustrates how women really want to connect over creative things and creative freedom. It’s such a wonderful way to connect without the burden of any kind of stridency.

Everybody’s so brave that I’m thrilled if Rachel Getting Married touched them.

You were originally a teacher?

Yes, I was the drama lady at a hippie school called Manhattan Country School. Everybody pays what they can afford and it’s based on the civil rights curriculum. They didn’t have a drama person, so I said, Well, I’d love to create a curriculum for you, but it has to be Shakespeare. Even though he’s dead, white, and a European male, I think he’s really important. Every year, for seven years, I did the eighth grade play and that still remains the most satisfying creative experience of my life. Except for the year with that fucking obnoxious kid who gave me a root canal [because] I was grinding my teeth so much! (laughs)

In 2011 you said: “I’m a woman of color in the middle of my life. I’m not supposed to be in Hollywood”. Sadly, the 2014 Hollywood Diversity Report from UCLA, which you’ve circulated, indicates nothing’s changed. The report concluded there’s still a disconnect: Though films and TV shows with racially and ethnically diverse casts make more money and get higher ratings than those without, minorities and women are still “woefully” underrepresented among creators, directors, and actors.

Yes, nothing’s changed for 50 years. It may be marginally better. My work involves a lot of white men, and I hear a lot of them complaining about how hard it is to get a movie made. I say, No, actually now it’s the same for you as it is for everybody else. Yes, it’s egregious. I’m not supposed to be here, and I’m not leaving, which is awesome. (laughs) It’s my job to be a pain in the ass. And I take my job as a pain in the ass very seriously!

Speaking of which, the work you’ve started on behalf of women and minorities at the Writers Guild of America, East (WGAE), holding town halls meetings, is that part of being a pain?

Yeah! I believe in guilds and in unions. My dad [director Sidney Lumet] was a big guild and union guy. When there’s a minority issue, a female issue, people tend to throw programs [at it]. You know, we’re gonna create a program for five women writers to tell their stories. I’m not knocking those programs; I’m glad they exist. But one of the brilliant things Toni Morrison said was, a huge tenet of racism and misogyny and chauvinism is distraction: Prove your stories are worthy. So we all run around and prove our stories are worthy. Prove you’re funny women. So women run around proving they’re funny. Prove your movie will make money. So somebody makes a movie that makes $125 million. All the while, everybody else is going about their business. They’re distracting from the work, the only thing that matters. There are only two people of color on the WGAE council. So I thought, let’s create a diversity caucus. But if it’s gonna mean anything, we should listen before we decide what people need. People want to be heard, even if it’s just for a minute.

So BinderCon, what made you want to participate?

I believe in the power of a group of concerned citizens—it’s very American. It’s an incredible act of citizenry. Part of a nation’s legacy is its art and its creative force. What are we gonna leave behind? As an American citizen—straight up—what kind of country do I want to live in? I’m female, I’m of color. The only thing that I have on paper is the Constitution. That’s fucking it! So I believe in being the best citizen I can be. This group power and elevation of consciousness is revolutionary.

How do stay so positive? How do you see a way forward with a structure that’s seemingly dead-set on keeping the status quo?

Oh yeah, well fuck it!

A day at a time, an idea at a time, a word at a time…

Yeah, there’s nothing to be taken personally. The minute anybody starts taking this stuff personally…Yes, it’s sexist, yes it’s racist, so what else is new? No one is going to give me a job because I’m righteously indignant. I’m gonna just do my work and I’m gonna get another job. And I’m not gonna work unless you pay me. I’m optimistic because here I am in the middle of this life, in this world, in this country, and so is everybody else. And there’s dialogue and discourse. And fuck it! You wanna make it difficult? Then you wanna make it difficult; that’s nothing new. I just don’t care!

Can you say what you’re working on, what we’ll all be buying tickets for?

Since Rachel, I’ve worked steadily. I actually haven’t taken a vacation. There are two pilots and two features going on now. Oneof the features will probably get made, but I’m not done with the script yet. I have absolutely no idea what will happen. The job is in the writing. You do your work and you collect your paycheck and then you do your work again the next day. What gets produced and what gets made, I don’t have that much control over unless I’m raising the money myself. And I haven’t done that.

Thanks so much for your time. And be prepared for a SRO crowd at your BinderCon panel!

Wow, thank you. You have no idea—my life is about holding people’s gum!

Come see Jenny Lumet speak on Saturday October 11, at 3:30, as part of the Writing for Film and TV: Breaking In, Breaking Through panel at BinderCon.  Tickets are on sale through EventBrite.