Roxane Gay runs the writing gamut. She has published a short story collection (Ayiti), a novel (An Untamed State), an essay collection (Bad Feminist) and many journalism pieces (in publications such as Buzzfeed and The New York Times). She teaches at a university (Purdue), has a notable Twitter following (18.4k), founded a small press (Tiny Hardcore Press) and serves as an editor at the literary journals PANK and The Rumpus. Gay is uncompromising, especially on the topics of feminism and trauma. An Untamed State, for example, is a novel in which, as The Washington Post noted, “for more than 200 pages, [the female protagonist is] beaten, burned, sliced and gang-raped,” calling it, in a generally positive review, “horrible, hypnotic and perfectly constructed to frustrate any search for comfort or resolution.” This is the position that much of Gay’s writing occupies, aiming not so much for easy resolution but rather to deftly stir up discomfort where discomfort rightly belongs.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about writing?
Writing, at its best and truest, can offer solace and salvation for both readers and writers.
How has that helped you as a writer?
Writing is such a necessary way for me to work through what’s on my mind, what I am feeling, what I am thinking, but because I find such solace in writing, this very thing also compels me to push myself, to look beyond myself, to make sure that what I’m writing is not just for me, but also for readers, whomever they might be. I also work not to diminish the act of writing in what I have written and what I read from other writers. Our words matter.
Gabriel Packard is the associate director of the creative writing MFA program at Hunter College in New York City.