An Interview with
The Amistad Staff
With such a distinct voice and wide-reaching audience, it's hard to know where Roxane Gay is heard most deeply. Maybe through her various works of fiction; maybe via her numerous essays where she critiques popular culture through feminist and/or racial lenses; maybe in her new podcast Hear to Slay with Dr. Tressie McMillan Cottom; maybe somewhere amongst her 834k followers on Twitter, or perhaps it's in conversation with her wife Debbie Millman. In any case, we are lucky to have such an electrifying writer who serves so capably in so many genres and outlets.
To better understand Gay's entry points, The Amistad staff felt compelled to explore her work in a classroom setting.We thought critically about her style, her theme(s), and her commentary. In our discussions, Gay continually asked us to reevaluate body image, sexuality, and race; we learned to question how we think and how we act.Based on those conversations, the staff collaborated and wrote the following interview questions. We're now honored and thrilled to share our dialogue here. We thank you,Roxane, for your honesty, inspiration, and humor.
You often say that “fiction is your first love,” yet you write in so many forms. Is there a place fiction cannot take us?
If there is a place fiction cannot take us, I hope to never find it. Fiction can take us anywhere our imaginations allow us to. It is a very malleable genre which is one of my favorite things about writing fiction.
In your memoir Hunger you showed us how deep vulnerability can spark conversation and change. Coincidentally your book was published mere months before the rise of the #metoo movement. Since #metoo, how have you experienced so many women sharing their long-held truths?
As someone who writes about gender, bodies, and sexual violence, people do tend to share their stories about their experiences with these things. It can be really overwhelming and it is a constant reminder of how much suffering there is in the world. I’ve had to develop strong boundaries because I am not a therapist and while I try to hold space for people who confide in me, I cannot help them beyond offering them empathy. And there are days when I cannot hold their stories and mine, too.
As a Haitian-American, are you following the diaspora wars? When it comes to Black issues, is understanding “origin” (African-American, Jamaican, Nigerian, etc.) necessary?
I’m certainly aware of diasporic tensions. I think war is a bit much. Regardless of where we come from, we do have our blackness in common but we also have our differences and I try to celebrate those differences and learn from them rather than place them in opposition. Origin matters to a great many people, and certainly, as a Haitian I think our history of liberation is critical to understanding who we are. Nothing productive comes from trying to create diasporic hierarchies. Solidarity is important and it is in our best interests to work together instead of against each other.
As a critic, you often investigate pop culture and its relationship to feminism, equality, and social justice. What themes or part of American history do you wish someone disrupted for you when you were a young Black woman?
I wish I had known more about the richness and depth of black literature growing up. I was raised by Haitian parents in Nebraska. Their cultural foundation was Haitian and the cultural foundation of my education was predominantly white. It wasn’t until high school and college that I was exposed to black writers and intellectuals beyond the mainstays. I feel like I am still catching up, in some ways.
How has Twitter fame impacted your writing? Does your popularity online push you to become more candid than you would like to be?
Twitter fame hasn’t really affected my writing beyond the time I waste online that I should be spending with my work. I am exactly candid as I want to be and, in fact, have very firm boundaries around what I will and will not share. Popularity has no influence on my candidness. In fact, it makes me reticent to be open because it feels like too much exposure.
Black authors are often asked to explain or resolve the world’s problems. How do you prioritize your wellbeing, especially your joy?
I try to remind myself, and others, that I am only human. I can only do so much. My work cannot speak to everything or everyone. And I am finally at a place in my life where I do experience some joy and I try to hold onto that joy, fiercely. I try to protect it and make choices that allow me to have that joyful time with my wife, our family, our friends together and separately. I try to remember that I am not defined by my work and that it is the people in my life that matter because work is fickle.
Okay, we’ve got to know, what’s been your embarrassing pandemic binge watch?
I am not embarrassed by what I watch. I’ve recently enjoyed the utterly irredeemable Bling Empire on Netflix. It’s a lot of fun.
Roxane Gay's writing appears in Best American Mystery Stories 2014, Best American Short Stories 2012, Best Sex Writing 2012, A Public Space, McSweeney?s, Tin House, Oxford American, American Short Fiction, Virginia Quarterly Review, and many others. She is a contributing opinion writer for the New York Times. She is the author of the books Ayiti, An Untamed State, the New York Times bestselling Bad Feminist, the nationally bestselling Difficult Women and the New York Times bestselling Hunger. She is also the author of World of Wakanda for Marvel.She has several books forthcoming and is also at work on television and film projects.She also has a newsletter,TheAudacity.