STONINGTON — A Pawcatuck author and publisher with an inspirational history of overcoming obstacles was recently awarded for her dedication to a prestigious rehab center’s success — and she doesn’t plan on slowing down any time soon.
Leslie Browning, 36, received the Community Service Award at the Kennedy Center’s 67th annual Awards Dinner and Annual Meeting in Bridgeport. Founded in 1951, the center is a nonprofit rehabilitation organization based in Trumbull, Conn., that serves more than 2,000 people with disabilities each year.
Browning wrote an in-depth article about the center and its programs and activities that was published in Wayfarer Magazine, a national literary magazine she founded. The magazine is an imprint of Browning’s publishing company, Homebound Publications, which she founded in 2011.
“Last year the Kennedy Center was facing budget cuts due to the Connecticut budget crisis and the staff was forced to furlough days and their programs were in danger of being cut back,” Browning said by phone Monday. “It was an eight-page spread and they used the magazine to help them apply for grants and to bring more attention to what was happening to the center.”
The 70-page, biannual magazine, focuses on people and organizations that are working to make positive change, she said.
The article on the Kennedy Center comprised interviews with several levels of the administration, the stories of the clients who use the center’s services, the history of the center and how it was founded and was it does for the community
“It was just to humanize the whole issue of these abstract budget cuts and who it is actually impacting,” she said.
Writing about the center reflected the magazine’s mission, which she said has since evolved.
“It started off as just a magazine to feature authors, and it grew into its own animal,” she said. “Right now we have a readership of about 8,000 people, and it is a national platform, and every issue we feature a wayfarer, which is simply a change-maker within the community trying to ‘chart the way for change,’ and reimagining what is possible. Normally we feature people but every now and then we do a movement or an organization.”
Browning, who is also a poet, said she founded Homebound Publications after an unrewarding experience with a publisher who gave her a five-book deal when she was 26.
“Eventually I just went on to found my own house so that I would have creative control over my own work. I originally just envisioned it as a platform for my own work, but I had other authors approach me with books that were quality works but had limited marketability, so they were ignored by the big publishing houses,” she said. “So I expanded it, and our first year we did four books, and now we do around 20 books and we have five divisions and about 100 titles in print, and we’re nationally distributed.”
Her career as a writer did not come easily. She was diagnosed with dyslexia one week before her high school graduation and told she was “not college material.” Around the same time, her mother had a multiple sclerosis attack, and Browning became her caretaker. Despite her obstacles, Browning said she started to read.
“I spent the better part of 10 years kind of taking care of her and going to the Westerly Public Library, that’s really where I got my first education, just going there twice a week, and the librarians were just awesome,” she said. “I just read voraciously and slowly became a better reader because of the repetitive nature of how I did it.”
Not only was she reading, she began to write.
“I started writing cathartically just as a way to get through what was happening in my life, and then I wrote a poetry collection that I thought people might enjoy reading,” she said. “I submitted it, and I actually got the book deal, and that kind of launched everything.”
Last year Browning received a full scholarship to Harvard University in the low-residency program to earn her bachelor’s degree. She is majoring in creative writing with a double minor in journalism and psychology, and is expected to graduate in spring 2020.
She recommended people with dyslexia spend time reading books about topics that truly engage them.
“Things started to turn around for me because I found books that I was genuinely, passionately interested in, so that passion helps you get through the difficulty of it all,” she said. “I think you have to find books that resonate with you and start there and then just keep reading. You have to just keep reading and writing.”
She is on a book tour now for her memoir, “To Lose the Madness: Field Notes on Trauma, Loss and Radical Authenticity,” published in April. She launched the tour with a reading at the Harvard Coop and has addressed the concept of radical authenticity in a Ted Talk at Yale University.
She is now working on another book of essays and wants to open a storefront for her publishing house after she graduates from Harvard.
Browning also has started the Radical Authenticity Community, an online forum for people to work through trauma, mental health and grief issues.
“I founded it as a community of storytellers working to lift the stigma of mental illness just by telling your story, even if it’s anonymously,” she said. “Because it’s when we learn that we’re not alone in how we feel that there’s hope.”