Pigeon Pages Interview with Leigh Stein


Do you have a bird story or favorite feathered friend?

In January 2017, a bird got in my house. I panicked and called wildlife control. The guy said, "Sounds like a bat." I was like, "Um, what?" He said, "We usually get calls about bats around this time of the year," and proceeded to tell me about people who moved out of their houses, rather than deal with their bat infestations. Long story short: it actually was a bird, and my cat is a superhero who figured out how the bird was getting in and out of our house (at the joint of the roof). I posted to Facebook, "I know there are bigger problems in our country right now but there is a bird in the walls of my house." And because all of my Facebook friends are writers, every comment was a variation on, "It's a metaphor! You have to write about it!" And now I'm writing a novel in which there is a bird stuck in a house.

What is your most memorable reading experience?

The finale for the Freerange Nonfiction reading series in the summer of 2012. I read an essay that would later turn into my memoir.

What makes you most excited about book coaching?

I realized that there are a million classes and workshops for writers but excelling at your craft isn't enough to carry you over the finish line of writing an entire book. So much of the writing process is a minefield of psychological hurdles. When we write, we have to face the worst parts of our selves: the procrastinator self, the self who's always checking her place in line (I'm borrowing from Mary Karr), the self who needs constant validation in order to make any progress. I truly love helping other writers deal with these beasts. I'm not a licensed therapist, but I've been in these same trenches, and I can help writers navigate the career side of writing as well. I love matchmaking between ambitious writers and agents or editors I know.

To tweet or not to tweet?

I'm becoming one of those old people who's like, I remember when Twitter used to be so great…

What books do you have in your bag right now?

Evicted by Matthew Desmond, Electric Arches by Eve L. Ewing, Milk by Dorothea Lasky.

Can you tell us your favorite rejection story?

When I was 21, I was living at home with my parents. I went on a date with someone who was a few years older (and who had his own apartment). He Googled me and read all my poems before we met, and discussed my work over dinner, in a weirdly flattering way. Then he sent an email to say he didn't want to go out with me again because I seemed too young but that he hoped he would see my name in the pages of the New Yorker someday and be able to tell himself, "I bought that girl a vegetarian platter." The next year, I was working as an editorial assistant at the New Yorker.

What literary journals do you love?

Sixth Finch.

What shakes your tail feathers?

On the weekend, there is this public radio channel (I listen through the WNYC app) that only plays American standards and I love it.

What advice do you have for fledgling writers?

Read! If you want to write a memoir, read fifty other memoirs. Am I kidding? I'm not kidding. I'm shocked by the number of writers I talk to who aren't reading in the form or the genre they are trying to write. And I know some people will say "but I don't want to accidentally imitate," which I get, but you at least need that foundation. Especially if you are writing outside of an MFA program (as I have done), and especially if you hope your book will someday be published. You can make your own syllabus. You have to know who has sat at this table before you grabbed a chair.

What other eggs do you have in your basket right now?

I am seeking to cultivate new hobbies that have nothing to do with words.


Leigh Stein is the author of the memoir Land of Enchantment, the novel The Fallback Plan, and the poetry collection Dispatch from the Future. Her writing has also appeared in the New York Times, the Washington PostAllureELLE, Poets & Writers, BuzzFeed, The Cut, Salon, and Slate. She teaches at the 92Y, Catapult, and Brooklyn Poets, and also works as a private book coach.