The flair Q&A

Emily Rubin

Tell me about your business or specialty.

I am an author and writing instructor, as well as a small business owner.

In my writing life, I have a novel, STALINA, that won a publishing contract through the Amazon Debut Novel Award Contest, and these days I have been writing essays, shorts stories and finishing a novel about urban homesteading in the East Village during the 1980’s—yes, the story is from personal experience! Other writing life projects include running the Write Treatment Workshops, creative writing workshops for people affected by cancer at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.

I also produce a reading series around the country that takes place in Laundromats—Loads of Prose the West Coast Chapter was recently presented as part of the LitQuake Festival at Carlin’s Laundromat in San Francisco’s Mission District. I have also taught creative writing workshops for Bard College’s Lifetime Learning Institute and Columbia University’s Narrative Medicine Program. With my husband, Leslie, we founded Taconic Trading Company to sell homemade products at Farmer’s Markets and through local stores. Roasted pumpkin seeds and smoked salt are our specialties. While maintaining our residence in the East Village, we purchased a small place on a pond in Copake in 2001, and since then have been slowly making a transition to be in the Hudson Valley full time, as it is here that our roots in the community are taking hold.

How'd you get to where you are now?

My life from early on focused on the arts and activism. When I graduated from Bard College as a Dance/Theater Major in the late 1970’s, I traveled solo to Egypt and East Africa. This was my first time traveling alone and out of the U.S. Soon after returning, I moved to the Lower East Side. Everyone I met and worked with was involved with the arts and housing movements. We made street theater and public art—graffiti and murals were integral to the landscape. We produced performances and literary readings throughout a neighborhood that was considered a war zone of demolished buildings, drug trade and hundreds of empty lots. But there were activists, underground clubs, gardens being planted, and galleries showing local artists. There was a collective energy that ran the gamut of politics and social change and I put down roots.
During this time I had a break from the city with the gift of a residency at the Millay Colony in Austerlitz, NY. This time away from the city gave me the chance to write and connected me once again to the Hudson Valley. When we started looking for a place out of the city it was this area we focused on.

All of these experiences have sent me on a path where today I hope to share my passion and commitment for writing and community engagement.

What surprises you in your work?

That every day a bit more gets done, breath by breath, word by word, action to action, inch by inch.

What drives you crazy?

Some days the writing drives me a little batty, but that’s part of the fun. I would have to say that people who complain without offering ideas about how to make change or offer to help drives me the craziest. And at times the glacially slow process of publishing can be frustrating.

Who inspires you? (it can be anybody you know, or don't know)

I always return for inspiration to writer and activist Grace Paley. Her work and life remind me that I should never be afraid to take chances in life, in words and sentences, and to always observe with a clear, keen eye that can lead to expression of empathy and humor. My mother, Carol, who turned 98 this year, has definitely raised the bar about being engaged throughout one’s life. My Aunt Ruth Begun, who passed a number of years ago was a trailblazer as well. After a bout of polio, she was in a wheel chair, and I grew up with her going to rallies and events, as well as traveling the world, never letting her disability stop her from fighting for the equality and the rights of women and the disabled.

You're a trailblazer - what are some highlights?

In 2005 I founded the reading and performance series Dirty Laundry: Loads of Prose, bringing writers and performers to working Laundromats around the country. Presenting writers around the warmth of the washers and dryers is a social experiment that is a great equalizer and fun literary event.

In 2011 I founded the Write Treatment Workshops. These are workshops given free in hospitals and community centers to anyone affected by cancer. In 2017 the Write Treatment Anthology, a collection of writings from the workshops was published and was a winner in the American Book Fest 2018. I recently had the honor of being nominated as a New Yorker of the Week on NY1 Network for these workshops, which I hope to offer soon in the Hudson Valley.

Any lessons you’ve learned and would like to share?

I try to let my ideas gel through action rather than over thinking. Finding people who say ‘yes’ is always a joy and encouraging, but even when someone says ‘no’ I try to look at it as a time to reassess my goals to grapple with what I truly want to accomplish and commit to with the realities of time, finances and the imagination in force.

Words of wisdom or thoughts?

I love what Laurie Anderson said about the rules she and her husband Lou Reed lived by:

1. Don’t be afraid of anyone.

2. Get a really good bullshit detector and learn how to use it.

3. Be really, really tender.

I would add to this, be fierce, read, write, eat well, be playful, and listen, listen, listen.


EMILY RUBIN'S debut novel STALINA was a selection in the Amazon Debut Novel Award Contest and was published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/Mariner Books in 2011. She was the first recipient of the Sarah Verdone Writers Award, a finalist in the International Literary Awards, and a Pushcart Prize nominee. Rubin’s fiction and essays have appeared in the Red Rock Review, Confrontations, Ghost City Review, LitBreak (upcoming), NY Observer, Poets & Writers Magazine, and HAPPY. In 2005 she founded Dirty Laundry: Loads of Prose, a reading and performance series that takes place in laundromats around the country.

In 2011 Rubin founded the The Write Treatment Writing Workshops for people affected by cancer at Mount Sinai Cancer Centers in New York City. The inaugural Write Treatment Anthology Volume I, writings from the workshops, was published in June 2017 and was a winner in the American Book Fest Award in the Health: Cancer Category. She has received grants and fellowships from the Heidi Paoli Fund, Marissa Acocello Marchetto Foundation, Millay Colony, Poets and Writers, LMCC, and the NY Foundation for the Arts. She is a member of PEN and the Directors Guild of America, and has an MFA in creative writing from the Writer’s Foundry of St. Joseph’s College, Brooklyn.

Rubin is working on a novel about urban homesteading and lives with her husband, Leslie, and their dog Sebastian in New York City and Columbia County, New York. In October 2019, Rubin was honored to be nominated as a New Yorker of the Week on NY1 (click here to see her spotlight).

(published 2019)