Black History Month seems to be speeding by with its short 28 days but I just had to make time to remind everyone about and introduce those who do not know to one of my favorite writers and black women, Roxane Gay.
Roxane Gay, Omaha native, and Libra just like me, is a queer black woman writer, professor, editor, and what some might call social commentator. Born to parents of Haitian descent, Gay began writing essays as a teenager. At age 12, she experienced sexual assault by her then boyfriend and his friends, which has heavily influenced her work over the years. Gay attended several universities and eventually obtained her Ph.D. in 2010 in Rhetoric and Technical Communication.
In 2011, Gay published a short-story collection, Ayiti, an exploration of the Haitian diaspora experience, which immediately highlighted her raw writing talent that makes her “one of the voices of our age” according to the Canadian National Post. In 2014, she published two books. First, she published her debut novel, An Untamed State, which follows Mirelle Duval Jameson, a Haitian-American woman who has been kidnapped for ransom which her father refused to pay. Her husband fights for her release over thirteen days and the novel also highlights Mirelle’s struggle to deal with the traumatic experience in its aftermath. The novel explores the interconnected themes of race, privilege, sexual violence, family, and the immigrant experience. Additionally, An Untamed State is often viewed as a fairy tale because of its structure and style, especially in reference to the opening sentence, which begins with “once upon a time”.
The second book Gay released in 2014, which she is most known for, is her collection of essays, Bad Feminist. In Bad Feminist, Gay’s essays explore being a feminist while loving things that seem to be at odds with the feminist ideology such as liking the color pink. The essays in Bad Feminist were originally published in the American Prospect and various websites such as Salon, Jezebel, and the Rumpus. A 2014 article from the Guardian perfectly explains Gay’s ideology and thought’s that led her to identify as a ‘bad feminist’ saying:
For years she felt that as a black woman – particularly one who has, at times, identified as queer – feminism wasn’t for her, because the movement “has, historically, been far more invested in improving the lives of heterosexual white women to the detriment of all others”. She also worried that feminism didn’t allow for natural human messiness. But she supports feminism’s aims, wants equal opportunities for men and women, reproductive freedom and affordable healthcare for all, so she came up with the label Bad Feminist, which punctures the need for perfection.
This is something I as a queer black woman can relate to and I believe Bad Feminist really highlights these ideas.
In 2017, Gay published her memoir about her body titled Hunger. This book is also known as the book “she wanted to write the least”. Gay knew that as soon as she realized she would “never wanted to write about fatness” she needed to. This book is not about wanting to lose a few pounds but instead, “is a book about living in the world when you are three or four hundred pounds overweight,” explains Gay. Ultimately, Gay traces her relationship with her weight back to being a victim of sexual assault as a child. For Gay, the book is a confession, and “having that kind of vulnerability in the hands of strangers really scared me,” she admits.
The book covers a lot of hard topics and if you want to know more about it and her process of writing it, I recommend listening to or reading the highlights of her interview with NPR which really shows why Hunger needed to be written.
In 2018, Gay released one of my favorite projects, which is another book to add to her battle in spreading awareness about and destigmatizing sexual assault, Not That Bad. Not That Bad is a collection of essays by various authors gathered by Gay that addresses what it means to live in a world where women have to measure the harassment, violence, and aggression we face and routinely have our experiences invalidated when we speak out. This valuable and revealing anthology, edited with an introduction by Gay, had me in tears the entire time I was reading it and weighed heavy on my heart. I know every woman I know, including myself, can relate to at least one experience in the book and that is what makes it more powerful and incredibly necessary in today’s world.
In addition to editing Not That Bad, another project of Gay’s which was really impactful was Gay Magazine. In 2017, the popular website, Medium, approached Gay to start a pop-up magazine for the online publishing platform. The magazine specialized in cultural criticism and provided pay for writers and Gay for her editorial work. The first issue was published in April 2019 and in May 2019 they officially launched the publication as “Gay Magazine”. The final issue of the magazine was themed ‘power’ and published in April 2020, however, the publication is still public on Medium for all to view.
The work of Roxane Gay is so inspiring to me as a young queer woman. I find a lot of similarities between myself and Gay and really admire so much of what she has done. In a lot of ways we have the same goal, to spread awareness about stigmatized topics, give marginalized groups a voice, and speak about our own experiences living as our identities in the 21st century. As you are thinking about and celebrating black voices this month, don’t forget to take a look at Roxane Gay and all the wonderful work she has done.
Featured Image Via Elle