Date with a Debut Author: Jen Winston

This week we met Jen Winston, author of essay collection Greedy: Notes from a Bisexual Who Wants Too Much. Date with a Debut Author gets you closer to the authors you’re looking out for.

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You’ve heard of their essay collection about patriarchy through the lens of bisexuality, now let’s get to know the wonderful author behind it all.

Welcome to Date with a Debut Author, where we meet new authors and learn more about them, their passions, and their writing. This time we got to meet with the wonderful Jen Winston, author of Greedy: Notes from a Bisexual Who Wants Too Much!

Date with a Debut Author gets you up close and personal with authors you should keep an eye out for each week. So, are you ready to learn more about Jen? Let’s go!

IMAGE VIA SIMON AND SCHUSTER

Conversation Over Coffee

Because we’re just getting to know Jen.

Serena Knudson (SK): With your day job and your book, Greedy, launching and your newsletter, The Bi Weekly, it won’t be long and you’ll be due for a vacation. If you had the day off with no obligations, what would you be doing? 

Jen Winston (JW): Such a thoughtful question! If I could be anywhere in the world to detox from this past year, I’d be in Berlin—there’s nothing quite like reading in the park in that city, especially during fall. But if I’m stuck in New York and I just have one day? I’d honestly love to spend it sitting on my couch with my partner and dogs, watching Season 3 of You (which drops the week after my book comes out—can’t wait to watch something so mindless. 

SK: How do you put together a collection like Greedy? Were they essays you already had written, but decided to put together in a collection? Or did the idea for the book come first, and then you wrote the essays?

JW: I’d written most of the essays in various writing workshops, and boy am I glad I didn’t throw them out! (Something I wish someone had told me: you don’t need an MFA, but you do need to write! And to read others’ work. Workshops are a great way to do both.)

I sold Greedy on an 80-page proposal, and that was the fifth 80-page proposal I’ve written. The others were all for different books where I’d made bisexuality a plot point or twist ending rather than the whole story. After I realized I could use bisexuality as a lens to look at patriarchy, systemic oppression, and my own sex life, I knew I had a whole book on my hands.

SK: What has been your favorite part of being a published author so far?

JW: It’s truly such a magical thing to write a book and have people actually read it! I feel so lucky to have put words on a page and be able to connect with people in some capacity.

There’s truly nothing as satisfying as seeing your finished book.  I was so overcome with emotion when I got my final copy — before that I’d said I would never write another as long as I live, but after I held it, I melted and started working on Proposal #2. 

SK: Do you play music while you are writing? If so, what do you enjoy listening to?

JW: Nope! Silence and white noise only, please. Sometimes if I’m really stuck while writing a personal essay, I listen to music that I loved during the time period I’m writing about — it helps bring me back.

SK: What is something you wish you could change in today’s world?

JW: This question is far too exciting to consider in a fantastic sense, so let’s go with a realistic, possibly attainable response: I’d destigmatize the idea of changing one’s mind after learning something new. Maybe if we did that, we’d be able to attain all the unattainable things!

IMAGE VIA SIMON AND SCHUSTER

Let’s Get Intimate!

Don’t you want to know more about this insightful author?

SK: You discuss a lot of personal experiences and thoughts in your book, Greedy, what was the hardest part for you to write?

JW: There’s an essay recounting a personal experience with sexual assault, and I truly didn’t think it would phase me to write. I told myself I’d processed all the trauma — part of me even thought it would be cathartic to put it down on paper. But after three full days spent working on that essay during Thanksgiving break, I broke down. I started sobbing. I quickly realized I hadn’t processed ANY of the trauma, and that writing was helping me do exactly that. I’m really pleased with how the essay turned out, and in a way it reminds me of my own resilience.

SK: What was your favorite part to write during this collection?

JW: My favorite essay is called “The Men Who Ghost Me.” It doesn’t get much attention because it doesn’t overtly deal with themes of queerness, but when you’re bi, even your relationships with men are queer (whether you know it or not)! While writing it, I literally read through all these old text threads with guys who’d ghosted me, and that was a TRIP. Mostly, though, I like the essay because I feel like it captures the modern experience of dating — how it’s complex and abysmal and fun at the same time. 

SK: What or who inspired you to create this collection of essays? 

JW: Whenever I talked about bisexuality on Instagram, I always got SO many responses from other bi people who felt alone, or had never told anyone how they identified. It made me realize that many of the experiences I’d had about my sexuality were probably not unique to me. The more I talked about bisexuality, the more I saw a community who was hungry for content that spoke to us by name. I’m honored to deliver a piece of that. 

SK: What do you want readers to take away from your book?

JW: If these readers aren’t bisexual, I hope they learn something about how to support the bi+ community and respect the journeys of bi+ people. If they are bisexual, I want them to know they’re valid, and to feel seen! That’s all. :)

SK: Your Simon and Schuster page comments on the fact that you are passionate about unlearning and creating work that helps others do the same. Why is unlearning so important to you? In what ways have you had to unlearn something from your childhood?

JW: Even just the concept of unlearning really shifted my worldview. I realized I didn’t just need to get smarter—I needed to actively dismantle some ideas I was holding onto so I could write new ones in their place. 

Since I grew up in Indiana, I’ve had to unlearn pretty much everything I was taught in school. The biggest probably pertains to racism and white supremacy—for example, I didn’t realize that the act of not speaking out against white supremacy was inherently perpetuating it. Confronting my own role in racist systems has been, a d still is, hard work. 

SK: What is your advice to other authors who may have similar stories to you and also wish to get their voice heard through their writing? 

JW: Keep going. If you don’t know what you’re trying to say just yet, listen to Joan Didion, who famously said, “I write to figure out what I think.” Write, and readers will follow. You got this.

Fun and Games

Now that we’re well-acquainted with Jen, here are some fun questions and what she had to say about them!

SK: If you could know the absolute truth to one question, what would you ask?

JW: Hmm . . . feels like I gotta go with something afterlife-related, right? I’d probably opt for the very basic “What happens after you die?” and demand a detailed response. 

SK: What is one thing you wish more people knew about you?

JW: That I love fashion, darling! I haven’t talked much about it for fear that I didn’t dress well enough to claim “style” as an interest, but at 32, I finally feel comfortable saying it out loud. I used to always try to underdress, but now I love to wear bright colors, bold makeup, and things that show my personality. Making strangers on the street uncomfortable is my favorite thing.

SK: If you could spend the day with any fictional character who would it be?

JW: I could overthink this for DAYS so I gotta go with the first thing that popped into my head, which happens to be Cher from Clueless? It’s probably just because I need to go shopping and I’d kill to raid her closet. Also, idk — she and Dionne always did have queer vibes. 

SK: What is the most meaningful thing someone has ever said to you?

JW: I always say that I think the best compliment you can give a writer is, “I loved the way you said that.” Any time someone compliments my choice of words, I remember why I write. 

SK: If you could go back in time and do something different, what would you change?

JW: About the world? Oh god—too much to type.

About my life? I would’ve hated my body less. Self-loathing is such a colossal waste of time.

SK: What are some of your book recommendations?

JW: My go-to recco is always In The Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado. Few books changed my life and worldview like this one—it opened my eyes to so many stigmas and assumptions about queer relationships that I still hold and perpetuate. 

I’ll also recommend Shiri Eisner’s Bi: Notes for a Bisexual RevolutionIt’s more academic, but this book truly changed my life. Shiri debunks all the popular myths about bisexuality and helps us realize that so many of the stigmas bi people carry are due to other systems of oppression. Reading Shiri’s book was the first time I ever felt proud to be bisexual. If Greedy gives just one person that feeling, it means I’ve done my job.

IMAGE VIA SIMON AND SCHUSTER

Jen Winston opens up in their essay collection, Greedy: Notes from a Bisexual Who Wants Too Much, about their journey of self-discovery. Jen explores male gaze’s role, what it means to be queer, and overcoming bi stereotypes. By pulling at their own experiences, Jen shows readers why marginalized groups tend to make themselves smaller while asking the question “what if we suddenly stopped” and trying to understand how we can do better. Greedy shows how bisexuality is more about finding stability and defining who you are than defining who you’re sleeping with. A reminder “that Greedy was a superpower all along.” Jen Winston is a creative director, writer, and the creator of the newsletter, The Bi Weekly. You can find other written work by her in The Bi Weekly, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and CNN. Jen’s work often intersects between politics, technology, and sex, but they are also passionate about unlearning and creating work that helps others do the same.

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Featured Images via Simon and Schuster