Photo by Lloyd DeGrane/special to College of DuPage
When she was halfway through high school, Leigh Stein dropped out. She liked to learn, but didn’t like the high school environment.
Fast forward 10 years.
Leigh Stein is getting rave reviews for her first novel and a collection of poems, earning prestigious award nominations, teaching theater in New York City, offering expert analysis on the millennial generation, delivering guest lectures and wrapping up a college degree.
What happened in between?
College of DuPage and a whole lot of learning about acting, writing, working, people, places and versatility.
After withdrawing from high school, Stein enrolled part time at COD. Acting lured her in. But she discovered much more.
“I was always a creative, artsy kid,” said Stein, now 27. “COD has a great theater program. I took acting, directing; it felt like real theater experience.”
At COD, Stein also took her first poetry class. She also studied Holocaust literature, ballet, speech, memoirs and more.
“As an independent learner, I found COD the opposite of high school,” said Stein. “At COD, you’re responsible for yourself. Classes meet a couple of times a week. Not everyone’s your own age. Not everyone’s like you. I liked that. I liked the freedom.”
After COD, Stein has lived the kind of varied life that can shape contemporary fiction and poetry.
A guy she was dating wanted to move to New Mexico, so she went along, attended a writers’ workshop, and served up Green Chile Cheeseburgers at a local diner.
In Chicago, she played Snow White at a holiday attraction.
After moving to New York to enroll in the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, Stein worked as a spa receptionist, legal assistant and “coat check girl” at a cousin’s restaurant.
She also landed a part-time job at The New Yorker—her first foray into publishing.
“I got paid to communicate with artists about their work,” said Stein. “I also got to go through all the new books coming out. And I got to interview the cartoonists. Many of them are funny and self-deprecating.”
For Stein, work and life experience led to more writing. Writing became a passion—and that passion is leading to fame and good fortune.
This year, Melville House released Stein’s first novel, “The Fallback Plan,” as well as “Dispatch from the Future,” a collection of her poems.
The novel, a humorous take on a 22-year-old Northwestern graduate who moves back in with her parents, is proving popular and timely, as many college graduates find themselves in the same position.
That’s led to multiple interviews for Stein with national and international journalists—including one with a top-rated Japanese TV station. After the story aired, Stein’s book flew off the shelves.
“The only place I have the Great American Novel is Japan,” said Stein.
Despite strong reviews and award nominations for her writing, Stein continues to pursue multiple interests.
This semester, she’s taking a full course load at Brooklyn College and is scheduled to graduate in December with a degree in comparative literature. She also continues to teach theater and, in her “spare” time, writes prose and poetry.
“With prose, you get space,” said Stein. “With poetry, you have to condense. But both are storytelling, ways to communicate.”
Here’s a condensed story with no allusions: Leigh Stein describes the protagonist in “The Fallback Plan” as a slacker.
Leigh Stein—novelist, poet, actress, teacher, student and COD alum—is quite the opposite.