Written by Amara Hartman
Photography by Lindsey Miller
Roxane Gay made a lasting mark on the essay scene with 2014s Bad Feminist, a New York Times best seller. Readers were sat down and schooled on Gay’s fair-minded but specific and entreating observations about womanhood and pop culture.
Her recent memoir, Hunger, deals rawly with her relationship with food and body image. In June, she came to Magers & Quinn Booksellers in Minneapolis to talk about the book. The space was packed–anyone who hadn’t been there at 7PM sharp had no choice but to pile between the looming aisles and eavesdrop. “I curse like a sailor,” she aplombed as we arrived. That candor continued throughout the hour-long sitting as she fielded questions on her writing process and her books. Commentary and anecdotes about women in publishing, of color and queer representation, and society rounded out the well of introspection she draws from.
The audience was intent, musing in agreement and laughing readily with her. Authors and readers share a unique camaraderie–a kinship is fostered between people whom we’ll never really know outside of their words, and yet the words themselves are filling enough.
On writing Hunger: “What gave you that confidence to put that vulnerable thing out there? What is your ‘why?’”
“Nothing. I don’t think of myself as a confident person. If I sat waiting for confidence, I’d be sitting at home. I just do it so I can keep moving.”
“Oftentimes, I find the topics I’m afraid to write about are the topics I’m the most intellectually stimulated to write about and then create my best work.”
“I have a day job. That’s what’s allowed me to make the creative decisions that I have.”
Publishing and the limits it puts on women writing outside the bounds of memoir.
“[It’s like] we can’t do reportage. There has to be a personal angle. People think women can only be authorities on themselves. Like we just pull out our diary and say, ‘OK, I think I’ll publish pages 3, 5 and 7.’”
To push outside of that stereotype…
“You have to be relentless.”
But at the same time…
“If that’s your thing, go for it. I mean, don’t shoot yourself in the foot.”
“I love how the body positive movement is like for sizes 14 or 18. I’m like, I fucking hope you feel positive. I don’t see a lot of space for black women, and I don’t see a lot of space for women who are size 28.”
“What’s interesting about being fat in this world is that your body is a public text. They want to make assumptions about you. I wanted to take that narrative and control it. I did find throughout writing Hunger, everything generally connects to my body. I think I learned a lot about myself and not in a cheesy way. I really learned about myself and habits that weren’t serving me.”
On her op-ed about Nate Parker in the New York Times.
“What frustrates me is that Roman Polanski is still revered and working. Charlie Sheen gets to gallivant around town. Casey Affleck just won an Oscar. Nate Parker just disappeared from Hollywood and that’s racism. I mean, you reap what you sow, but I think that black men who admit these mistakes pay disproportionality, and white men continue to thrive. It’s a damn shame. Casey Affleck is having the time if his life. White men, man. Ugh. Sorry guys.”
When she revealed she’s not a podcast person, there was a collective crowd gasp.
“I don’t know why, it seems right down my alley. I download a lot of the but then I never remember to listen. I like 2 Dope Queens, Sword and Scale, Another Round.”
Why she chooses to “interact with people who say really shitty things to her on Twitter.”
“Because it makes me feel better. You have no idea.”
Her favorite song is “Win.” “What’s amazing about DJ Khaled, if I may, he doesn’t sing, he doesn’t rap. He throws his arms in the air and says, ‘I’m DJ Khaled.’ He’s the world’s greatest hype man. So many kids who love him don’t realize he’s a Palestinian man which is so hot. He’s so good at merchandising. He has a DJ Khaled line of cocoa butter, and he doesn’t give a fuck about his body. He’s like, ‘I look good.’ He’s like, ‘This is my big fat stomach. It’s hairy, and I am beautiful.’ It’s so erotic. He kisses his baby and says ‘Asahd, Daddy. Asahd, Daddy.’”