Bindercon: The Symposium on Women Writers Today, which was held Oct. 11 and 12 in New York City, was by all accounts a smash success, with hundreds coming together for two days of inspiring and empowering panels for lady writers. I was lucky enough to attend, and as I sat in NYU’s Cooper Union surveying the sea of women gripping ballpoints and sporting their hot pink conference lanyards, it was amazing to think that the event had sprung up from a Kickstarter campaign in early August, and was now a humming hive of women eager to share their work, ask for freelancing tips, and offer each other support and encouragement.
I left my two-year-old with Daddy for the day, and met up with a fellow writer friend. She has a toddler as well, and we were both running on about four hours sleep, and a bit delirious. We were feeling very Gonzo, just with fewer drugs, and more Go-Gurt stains on our shirts. But we were quickly roused from our fugue state after the kick-ass kick-off from the conference’s creator, Leigh Stein. Stein talked about her own struggle finding her way in the publishing world, and how moved she has been by the sense of community within the assembled group. She then introduced Leslie Jamison (author of The Empathy Exams) who gave a truly insightful, (if mildly depressing) talk on the way female voices are still not given the same credence and respect as the words that are pecked out by those with testes.
What followed was a weekend of talks and panels covering all different aspects of writing. There was a very practical and informative session with Noelle Howey, the deputy editor of Real Simple, where she went over the basics of how to properly pitch a publication. And there was the very funny and enlightening peek into being a writer for film and television. Screenwriter Jenny Lumet of Rachel Getting Married fame shared a bonkers story about courting Jonathan Demme’s dog by stuffing her pockets with Bac-Os.
I was particularly fond of the talk on the struggle of finding time to write whilst raising a kid. Author Marie Myung-Ok Lee came up with the rather hilarious yet useful “Fuck It Philosophy,” meaning, screw the people who dare to judge you for making the time to follow your passion.
Sadly, I couldn’t clone myself to attend all of the panels, which was a bummer, as there were talks from Jill Abramson, Anna Holmes of Jezebel, and I heard BUST’s own Emily Rems tore it up at her panel on crafting a career out of multiple gigs.
Confession: conference-y type gatherings do not generally pique my interest, unless the attendees are wearing plush animal suits and making out, or are dressed as Thor and Leia and toting makeshift sabers. But I can honestly say I left Bindercon not only feeling proud to be a woman writer, but also excited to sit down at my computer and begin pounding the keys. (Which is saying a lot, considering that currently my shift key is on the fritz due to the fruit of my womb spilling raspberry seltzer on it, and I have to ee cummings it until I can get a hold of my husband’s Macbook.)
Really though, it’s easy for me to understand why Bindercon was so popular, and feels so groundbreaking. I’ve often felt that so much about being a writer – particularly a female one – has been mysterious, and half the time I’ve just been bumbling my way along in the dark, trying not to make an ass out of myself in front of an editor by pitching the wrong person, the wrong thing, or asking questions that make me sound like I’ve just learned how to open a Word Doc.
Like many writers, I’ve worried my ideas weren’t good enough, or that my writing wasn’t smart/funny/important enough to find a home. This conference helped to pull back the veil on the publishing biz, and gave female authors the support and courage to get their stories out there in the world. As Leigh Stein said in her opening talk, “We're here to dare you to do the thing you aren’t ready to do.”
Right on. Or write on, rather. –Johanna Gohmann
First photo by Julie Heart. Other photos by Kait Burrier.