For 1997 College graduate Audrey Stein, becoming a writer did not require courage — it was something that she needed to do.
Last year, she published her memoir, Map, which depicts her falling in love with a woman via e-mail during her senior year at Penn.
That was the year that Ellen DeGeneres came out on national television, a time when “it was easier to say, ‘I’m in love with another girl’ than to say, ‘I met her on the internet,’” Stein said. “That’s what drove me to write about it, to talk about — for people to understand that it was a real, legitimate relationship.”
Unlike many of her peers, Stein was unsure of her sexuality during her first few years at Penn, so she decided to join a queer mailing list as a “safe way to try on an identity and figure it out.”
Map took nine years to complete and follows the eight months in which Stein entered her first relationship with a woman.
Stein said she initially began the book after graduation as a way to get over the break up of the relationship.
“I started writing in the present tense,” she said. “I knew my life was going to change as I wrote.”
After many revisions that incorporated flashbacks and flashforwards, Map was finally published and was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award — an annual award for the best lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender literature in the United States.
Stein currently resides in Cambridge, Mass. and has a “day job” at a bank in addition to writing. Once a week, she teaches a memoir-writing class at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education, where her students range in ages from 23 to 83.
According to Stein, writers inevitably discover that the adage “you can make a killing but you can’t make a living” holds true. However, she is a firm believer that “you don’t need to have a New York Times best seller published by Random House to achieve success.”
“Success is about getting the words right, it’s about sharing a story with someone who needs to hear it,” she said.
Earlier this month, Stein came back to Penn to give a reading. She noticed that the LGBT community at Penn has grown significantly in the last 15 years.
“There were a small number of people who were the ‘known gay people on campus,’” she said. “If you were reading a [Daily Pennsylvanian] article about queer people, it would be the same 10 people who were quoted.”
According to Stein, there were regular columns in the DP about LGBT affairs. A particularly memorable columnist was Stephen Houghton who had “a fierce public persona.”
“He had ‘fag’ written across his forehead in his picture in the paper,” she said, adding that this made it all the more surprising when she read a column about how he was not out to his dad, who was very religious.
“I never remember being nervous telling people I was queer at school,” she said, adding that “sexuality was a topic of conversation that didn’t happen.”
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