Roxane Gay: 2017 National Book Festival

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>>From the Library of
Congress in Washington D.C.>>Linda Holmes: Please
welcome, please join me in welcoming, Roxane Gay. [ Applause ]>>Roxane Gay: Thank you, Linda. Thanks for coming out
on this hot, rainy day. It’s actually not hot outside. It’s just hot in here,
but, that’s a Nelly song. Sorry. [ Laughter ] I almost broke into song,
but I’m going to save that.>>Linda Holmes: Yeah,
we’ll hope it’ll happen.>>Roxane Gay: Oh, it will.>>Linda Holmes: So, “Hunger”, one
of the reasons why I was so excited to come here and talk
to you about “Hunger” is that when someone first
said to me, “Oh, did you know Roxane wrote a book? It’s about weight, and
it’s a memoir of the body. And, it’s all this stuff. It’s going to be great.” And I said, “I’m sure
it’s going to be great.” And, I said, “Oh, you
should read it.” And, I said, “Oh, no, no, no.” I said, “I can’t.” I said, “I can’t.” And, I couldn’t even, to think
about reading it was to think about something that I knew
was going to be very raw. And, you say in the book that
it’s the hardest writing project that you’ve done. Can you talk a little
bit about why that is?>>Roxane Gay: Yeah. Definitely. When I decided to write
this book, it was 2014, just before “Bad Feminist” came
out, and my agent said, “Hey, let’s pitch another book idea.” And, I was like, “Yeah, let’s
do it before the book comes out in case it flops, so
I have another book deal.” Which is how I think. Big mistake. Huge. And, that was “Pretty Woman”. Anyway. I thought the thing I want
to write about least is fatness and my body and the experience of
living in my body in this world. And, that’s when I
knew, oh, god damn it, this is the book I’m
going to have to write. Because the things that I like
writing about the least end up being, oftentimes, the most
intellectually satisfying. And, that was, indeed,
the case for this book. But, it was difficult. It was really hard.>>Linda Holmes: What’s, what is
satisfying about having written it?>>Roxane Gay: Having written it. [ Laughter ] What’s satisfying is that when
you’re fat, people project a lot of bullshit onto your body
and make a lot of assumptions about why you’re fat
as if they deserve to. As if they have a right
to the story of your body. And so, to tell the story
of my body for what it is, neither good nor bad, just it is
what it is was really satisfying. And, the people who are
most inclined to project onto me aren’t going to
read a book like “Hunger”, but I didn’t write it for them.>>Linda Holmes: Yeah, one of the
words that really jumped out at me in “Hunger” is the word unruly which
you use quite a lot when you talk about unruly bodies
and unruly appetites. What is it about the word “unruly”
that appeals so much to you?>>Roxane Gay: Yeah, it started
with an erotica collection edited by Hanne Blank called “Unruly
Appetites”, and I loved that phrase for thinking about appetite
and how sometimes it is unruly and untamed and uncontrollable. And, I think we can apply
that to body sometimes, and at times throughout my life, my body has felt unruly
and beyond my control. And so, I think it’s a
really appropriate phrase.>>Linda Holmes: Yeah. I referred to this somewhat in
gest, but it has been my experience that since you wrote this book, it has invited a tremendous
amount of advice.>>Roxane Gay: Yes.>>Linda Holmes: And, I’m
wondering why it is that people seem to not be able to receive
a memoir as anything other than a request for input.>>Roxane Gay: That’s
a great question. I think because everyone thinks
they’re an advice columnist, and I think that when
it comes to fatness, people see the fat
body as a problem. And so, they want to
offer a solution, and they need to rethink
their framework because the fat body
is not a problem. And, yet, every day, even now,
I get all sorts of weird email and sometimes in person advice
about eating, exercise, and therapy. Even though I’m 42 and I have
health insurance and a brain. So, I’m, and I also, like, I
wrote the book, and I’m capable of handling all of
these things on my own. Like, a man from Washington
actually named Mark. So, if he’s here. [ Laughter ] Emailed me, and he said, “You know, if you exercise three days a
week, it’ll be really useful.” And, I was like, “But,
did you not read my book? I exercise all the time. Like, what are you talking about?” And, it’s just like
basic ass advice, like. A woman in Canada emailed
me and said that she would give me a
gift worth $100 Canadian. [ Laughter ] If I went vegan for three
months and lost weight.>>Linda Holmes: Three
months for $100 Canadian?>>Roxane Gay: It gets better. [ Laughter ] And, if I went vegan
for three months and did not lose weight,
I had to send her $150. [ Laughter ] That was like the incentive. And, I was just like, “Bitch, what?” [ Laughter ] And. [ Applause ] I wrote her back a very nasty email,
and she responded very nastily. She was hurt. And, I was like, “You
should be hurt. I was trying to hurt you.” [ Laughter ]>>Linda Holmes: It’s funny
because I feel like the intimacy, the sometimes, like, false
assumed intimacy of Twitter and the internet is compounded
by when people hear you talk about topics, and I
think fatness is one. Trauma is another. That they associate with such shame
that they would only talk about them with people they feel very close to. That when you talk about
them, they feel, now, like you and they know each other.>>Roxane Gay: Absolutely.>>Linda Holmes: And so, you get
this, kind of, let me talk to you as a friend because
now we know each other.>>Roxane Gay: Absolutely. And, I think women writers face
this quite a lot that when you write about the personal, people,
then, think we’re friends and that you’re there to comfort
them or be their best friend. And, we’re not friends. I like all of you, sure, but. [ Laughter ] You don’t know me. You know what I have
allowed you to know about me, and it’s really important
to understand that boundary. And, people have no boundaries
when it comes to women writers. Like, all the time, people
say, “Can I hug you?” And, I’m like, “No,
because you’re a stranger, and I don’t like hugging strangers.” And, they get really
upset, but I’m like, “Do you ask Jonathan
Franzen for a fucking hug?” [ Laughter ] I know you don’t. I know you don’t, and it’s
incredibly frustrating that male writers get to
be treated as intellectuals and as having gravity and women
writers are treated as friends.>>Linda Holmes: Yeah. Is it a, is it a, is it a burden? I keep struggling for a better word
than burden, but that people want to tell you how much
your work means to them?>>Roxane Gay: No, absolutely not.>>Linda Holmes: But, I mean,
do you know what I’m saying?>>Roxane Gay: You can
tell me that all day. I’ll be fine.>>Linda Holmes: But,
there are people who say.>>Roxane Gay: I’ll carry that one.>>Linda Holmes: There are
people who say, “This, you know, reading about you, reading things from you is how I stay,
how I keep going?” And, I’ve talked to other
women writers about that. Is that something that
is difficult for you?>>Roxane Gay: No, it’s flattering. It’s, sometimes I find it strange. Just because I never
thought of myself as ever being that kind of person. And, writing is such a
difficult, well, not difficult, but challenging, I
guess, experience. And, you always hope that your work
is going to be noticed as a writer. And, so often, really
good work goes unnoticed that to have your work not
only noticed by understood and appreciated is
really overwhelming. And, I’ll never take
that for granted. The challenging thing can be when people tell me
their personal stories.>>Linda Holmes: Right.>>Roxane Gay: A lot of
times, people will, then, tell me their own histories of
trauma or dealing with body shame or anything related to the
kinds of subjects I write about. And, I always try to respect and
honor that, but I’m not a therapist. And, I don’t know what to do with
all of these sad stories sometimes. It can be really overwhelming for
people to just tell me everything, and I recently did an
event with Ann Patchett. And, she gave me some
really good advice. She says that at the end of her
reading, before her signing line, she says, “I already lost my best
friend, and so you can’t come in the signing line and tell me
about how you lost your best friend or something equally horrible because my story is
enough for me to carry.” And, I was really impressed by that
that she has developed that boundary after she wrote about her
relationship with Lucy Grealy, and so, I’m trying to hold on
to that and use it when needed.>>Linda Holmes: Yeah. One of the things that comes
up, I think, for a lot of people who are writing memoir is what
to reveal and what not to. And, there are places in the book where things are fairly
specifically alighted in terms of these are details
I choose not to give. These are things I
choose not to share. Was it difficult to draw
those boundaries and feel like you could say here are the
things that either I’m going to keep for myself or I don’t want
other people in my life to read or to have to read. What as that like for you?>>Roxane Gay: I just made sure
that I knew what my boundaries were, and I tried to stick
to them as often, and so one of the key things I
did was treat this as a memoir of my body quite literally. And so, if a detail was not
related to my body in some way, then I did not include it. There are things that
I write around, and people have sent me emails
saying, “You were talking about this, weren’t you?” And, like, yeah, but, there are
other people involved, and so, I have an ex-boyfriend
who’s wonderful. And, I write about him very nicely
in the book because it’s true. We’re still friends. But, he’s really private,
and so I respect that. And so, he was like, please
don’t ever write about this. And, I said, “I won’t.” And, I believe that. I don’t write about my current
relationship situation because, again, I am fine with all of this,
but the people in my life don’t ask for this level of scrutiny. And, it’s not fair to them. And so, that also helps. I just, sometimes you have
to save stuff for yourself.>>Linda Holmes: Yeah.>>Roxane Gay: And, that
helps keep it yours.>>Linda Holmes: Yeah. I heard you talking about the
book and saying that you hoped that your parents would not read it.>>Roxane Gay: I do
hope they don’t read it.>>Linda Holmes: Not [inaudible].>>Roxane Gay: I just
sent them copies. [ Laughter ] Last week.>>Linda Holmes: Not because
there’s anything in it that is specifically
a secret from them, but just because there are
things that you don’t think that they need or would
want to read.>>Roxane Gay: Yeah. I don’t think that
parents need to read about how their 12-year-old
child was raped. Like, you don’t need
that in your head. I think the broad strokes
are enough.>>Linda Holmes: Yeah.>>Roxane Gay: And, they
don’t need to know a lot of things I put in the book. But, they’ve come to tour events,
so I, I did not prepare them for “Bad Feminist”
which was a mistake. They found out about
it from Time Magazine. It was bad. I was really passive about
it, and now it’s much better. But, for this book, I told them,
“Look, I wrote a book about fatness and sexual assault,” and I prepared
them in the ways they would need to be prepared because everyone else
in the family has read the book. And, I didn’t want
them to be blindsided, and they’ve been really good. They’ve respected my
little boundary with them and have not read the book. They did read and excerpt in The
Guardian which as tough for them, but only because they’re really good
parents and we’re still very close. We talk every day, and they
were just hurt that something like this happened to their child. Yeah.>>Linda Holmes: Did you worry
knowing the kind of scrutiny that you come under and how much
people judge you who don’t know you that people would judge
your parents?>>Roxane Gay: No, not at all. I wrote about them
very well in the book.>>Linda Holmes: Oh, no. You did. You absolutely did.>>Roxane Gay: I’m
confident about it. When I do something well,
I know I do it well, and so, in that regard, I was. [ Applause ] I knew that they would be able
to show their face in church and with their friends and family. I wanted them to be able to walk around holding their heads
high as they deserve to. So, I didn’t worry
about that at all. And, if people did judge them for
not figuring things out or whatever, then I would put them
in their place. Because my parents did everything
humanly possible to help me. I just did not know how to
allow myself to be helped.>>Linda Holmes: Yeah. I feel like I should have
a little card that I hold up every time I’m thinking because this is what I would be
thinking about if it were me. And, every time I’ve thought about
writing about weight and stuff, I always think I don’t want
anybody to blame my parents.>>Roxane Gay: Yeah.>>Linda Holmes: You
know what I mean? Because the advice
was so different then.>>Roxane Gay: Yeah.>>Linda Holmes: The advice
parents was so different.>>Roxane Gay: It was
very different.>>Linda Holmes: In, you know, like
the ’80s when I was a teenager.>>Roxane Gay: Yeah. And, you know, there are
things that they did wrong, and I write about that in the book. And, there are definitely
issues that I have with them because they’re both thin. And, Haitian culture is obsessed
with fatness in that nobody’s fat. And so, when you’re fat, it
becomes a family project. And, that’s really overwhelming
and painful, but when I turned 40, I really started having
firm boundaries with them. And, I said, “My fat, my
body is no longer going to be a source of family
discussion.” And so, when they would
talk about my body to me, I would hang up the phone. And, they learned, and
it only took like a week. No, it took three weeks,
but after getting hung up by your daughter for, you
know, three or four weeks.>>Linda Holmes: Right.>>Roxane Gay: You get the message.>>Linda Holmes: Right. When you were writing, I want
to switch gears a little bit. When you were writing the stories in
“Difficult Women” one of the things that I found so interesting about
that book is the formal variation between things that are, for
one thing, they are divided in some cases in interesting ways. Which “Hunger” is also. It’s in kind of short,
numbered sections, and some of those stories
are differentiated by addresses or something like that. And, some of them are
very, very short. Is there a, do you feel like
there’s a point that you have to get to before publishers and
other people are comfortable with that kind of formal
experimentation in fiction?>>Roxane Gay: Absolutely. Absolutely. “Difficult Women” is the first
book I ever tried to sell, and it’s the fourth
book I had published. And, when I was first, well,
when my agent was first shopping “Difficult Women” around,
publishers said, “We love the writing,
but it’s just so dark. It makes me want to kill myself.” And, I was like, “Yeah,
that’s what I was going for.” [ Laughter ] So, job well done, and it was just, they were not willing
to take a chance. And, short stories in general tend
to be more challenging to sell, and so, it was what it was. And then, finally, after
“Ayiti”, “Bad Feminist”, and “An Untamed State”, a
publisher was willing to say, “Okay. Now, we’ll publish
this little book.” And, it did fine. It did well.>>Linda Holmes: Yeah. You have been, I feel like you have
been out, you know, promoting books and selling books for a
really long time right now. What is the process of, like,
what is sort of the, yeah, the process of going out and talking
to people day after day after day, particularly with a
book like “Hunger” that is so personal and raw. How do you take care of yourself so that you can kind
of keep doing that?>>Roxane Gay: I don’t know. It’s a good question, and I
have to answer it very quickly.>>Linda Holmes: Yeah.>>Roxane Gay: I’m a
workaholic for sure. I’ve been on the road basically
since 2014, and I’m a hustler. And, I am willing to
hustle, and I have found that in-person events have
worked really well for me which is unexpected because
I’m actually shy and weird.>>Linda Holmes: Yeah.>>Roxane Gay: But, it’s been
challenging and has been exhausting, and I have, I’m definitely
at the end of my rope. Like, the paperback of “Difficult
Women” is coming out this fall, and I’m actually not
going to tour it. I just feel like I’ve done enough.>>Linda Holmes: Yeah.>>Roxane Gay: And, I need a break.>>Linda Holmes: What, so one of
the other things I want to talk about that I forgot to
mention in the introduction is that you’re working with Marvel.>>Roxane Gay: Yeah. Yeah.>>Linda Holmes: Let’s talk
about Marvel a little bit. What are you doing for them?>>Roxane Gay: I wrote a comic book
for them called “World of Wakanda” which is part of the
Black Panther universe, and it focus on the Dora Milaje,
the all-women elite fighting guard that protects Black Panther. [ Laughter ] Yeah. [ Applause ] It was a lot of fun.>>Linda Holmes: Yeah? Are you a long-time comics person?>>Roxane Gay: No. That was my first foray. I read Archie Comics growing up. [ Laughter ] Which is different. [ Laughter ] Just a little bit. So, I was very new to comics. Ta-Nehisi Coates emailed me
one night, and he was in Paris at the time so it was really
late for me, early for him. And, he said, “I have a crazy idea. How would you feel about
writing a comic for Marvel?” And, I didn’t think he meant
Marvel, the mothership. So, I was like, “Oh, that
sounds really interesting. Sure. I’ll do it.” And, I thought, I don’t know
what Marvel I thought he meant. [ Laughter ] But, I just, it couldn’t
possibly be “the” Marvel, so just thought maybe it’s just
like a little tiny upstart.>>Linda Holmes: The
Parisian Marvel Bakery.>>Roxane Gay: Yes, exactly. And, then, my editor, Will Moss,
emailed me from Marvel, and he said, “Ta-Nehisi gave me
your email address. Let’s do this thing.” And, his email was So, I typed in to
see if it was the real Marvel, and it was the real Marvel. And then, I was like,
“Oh, holy shit.” And then, it was fun. It was different.>>Linda Holmes: How have you,
what’s different about it?>>Roxane Gay: The
collaborative nature of it.>>Linda Holmes: Right.>>Roxane Gay: In that
you work with an artist. And so, you’re just
one cog in the process, and that’s actually been really
useful for me and refreshing to not have it all on my shoulders. And so, I write the story, and then
the artist does the line drawings. And then, there’s an
inker and a letterer, and just watching each issue
come together was really, really satisfying, and my editor,
Will Moss, was super helpful because I didn’t know
anything about this universe. I knew who Black Panther was, but I
didn’t know about the Marvel canon, and so sometimes, I
would write storylines that could not have happened because
the Avengers were in New York at that time or something. [ Laughter ] And, he would always
know, and I would just be like how do you know that? It was thrilling to
work with people who are so passionate about what they do. And, I do that, and also
at my regular books. Publishing people,
regardless of genre, are just very passionate
about what they do.>>Linda Holmes: Yeah. When you mention that the
people who originally looked at “Difficult Women” thought it
was too dark, I know that there is, that you have fondness for
a lot of parts of culture that are significantly more
lighthearted, Ina Garten and Channing Tatum and
all that good stuff. [ Laughter ]>>Roxane Gay: I don’t think
light thoughts about Channing. [ Laughter ] But, we can go with that.>>Linda Holmes: Differently
dark, perhaps.>>Roxane Gay: Yes.>>Linda Holmes: Do you ever want
to spend some time writing things that will not take you to
those same dark kind of places but will be more, sort of lighter
on your, perhaps, heart to write?>>Roxane Gay: Yes. My, I just sold two nonfiction
books, and they are not depressing. I told my agent, “I need
to write something happy,” and they’re not necessarily
happy, but they’re positive and not grounded in darkness. And, I’m really excited
for the opportunity to just do something
different and yeah. I do have that desire, and that’s
why I do a lot of humor writing on the side, just because
it’s the spoonful of sugar. And, it makes it possible
for me to go to the dark places that
I go in my fiction.>>Linda Holmes: Yeah. Did you, one of the things
that I remember recommending to people was the blog
posts that you used to write that were baking combined with.>>Roxane Gay: Yeah.>>Linda Holmes: Sort of
very personal writing. What is personal about
baking to you?>>Roxane Gay: Well,
it’s so intimate. You get your hands really into
the ingredients most of the time, and there’s an intimacy about
preparing something for someone. And, even if it’s yourself,
and so oftentimes, I would bake and I would have all these
thoughts while I was baking. And, I never have a lot
of free time, so for me, when I do take the time to cook
or bake, that’s actually downtime and relaxing time, and it’s time
for me to think and have feelings. And so, I would write these long, meandering blog posts interspersing
the recipe I was making and my feelings. And, it was fun, and that
was actually the inspiration for “Hunger”.>>Linda Holmes: Yeah.>>Roxane Gay: And, it turned
out that it wasn’t going to work in book format as well as I thought, so “Hunger” evolved
into what it is today. But, yeah. I enjoyed those blog
posts very much.>>Linda Holmes: Yeah. Do you know the scene
in “Bridesmaids” where she makes the cupcake?>>Roxane Gay: Yes.>>Linda Holmes: How do
you feel about that scene. This just popped into my head. Purely curiosity. I’m just seeing how it goes.>>Roxane Gay: How do I
feel about that scene? It was fine. Yeah. I mean, I thought,
doesn’t she throw it away at the end of the scene?>>Linda Holmes: Well, she eats it,
but like miserably and alone and.>>Roxane Gay: Yeah. I thought, the whole, that whole
storyline actually bothered me because she had this talent and
this dream and she gave up on it. Now, she had every reason
to be down in the dumps because her store was,
this is not a spoiler. The movie’s been out forever. [ Laughter ] Like, she was foreclosed on, but she
could have done something different, and it just felt like a
cop out that she wouldn’t, like, hold onto that passion. And so, that scene, and that
whole storyline depressed me, and then when she made the cake for the boyfriend, I
thought that was cool. [ Laughter ]>>Linda Holmes: Yeah.>>Roxane Gay: That was better
because, like, there was joy in it. But, when she was making it
for herself, it was like, oh, look how talented I am. I’m giving up on myself. It was just lazy, and I just hate
seeing women give up on themselves, even if they’re not real.>>Linda Holmes: Yeah. [ Laughter ] Do you have other, I have heard
things off and on about you and TV and movies and other things. Where do your interests
lie in that kind of stuff?>>Roxane Gay: Like
in terms of watching?>>Linda Holmes: No, no, no. In terms of writing and making.>>Roxane Gay: Well, I have, I
wrote a screenplay for my novel “An Untamed State”, and I’m writing
it with Gina Prince-Bythewood. And, it was supposed to be
going into production this year, but then, fucking Marvel. [ Laughter ] Marvel gave her a movie, and
how do you say no to Marvel. You don’t. And so, now, we’re probably going to
go into production in February 2019.>>Linda Holmes: I forgot
you were part of the “Love and Basketball” renaissance.>>Roxane Gay: Yes. I was.>>Linda Holmes: That, which is
a Gina Prince-Bythewood movie.>>Roxane Gay: Movie. It’s my favorite, one
of my favorite movies.>>Linda Holmes: 2000. One of my favorite movies.>>Roxane Gay: I had the opportunity
to do a talk back with a director and screen their movie at The
Silent Theater in Los Angeles, and so that’s how I
ended up meeting her. And, I just thought she
was incredibly talented, and when my producers
asked me who do I want to direct the movie,
I had one choice. And, she was it.>>Linda Holmes: What do you
think it is about that movie?>>Roxane Gay: It’s romantic.>>Linda Holmes: It is romantic.>>Roxane Gay: It’s romantic
and the ending is perfect. The ending, I thought,
was really groundbreaking. And, I think, sadly, it’s still
groundbreaking that I don’t want, this is one I’m not going to
give away if you haven’t seen it. Because I don’t want to take
that away from you guys. But, it’s just a beautifully
written movie. It’s tender. It doesn’t try to be
more than it is. It’s a romantic, not comedy. It’s a romantic drama with comedy,
and it’s just beautifully done. So, I have written that screenplay, and I’m going to write
some other movies. And, I also, I’m writing a TV show.>>Linda Holmes: So,
it doesn’t sound like you’re going to
get a lot less busy.>>Roxane Gay: No, I’m not.>>Linda Holmes: Anytime soon.>>Roxane Gay: I’m not. We’re actually piloting right
now, and that’s exciting. And, I hope it gets picked
up for a series, and I mean, I hope the pilot even gets made. I mean, we’re at the very
beginning of the process, but it’s going to be great. It’s through Amazon, and it’s being
produced by Freedom Road Pictures which is Common’s production
company. And, I think we’re going
to make a really good show.>>Linda Holmes: Just before
we go on, I’m going to tell you that in about, like,
maybe four minutes or so, we’re going to do some Q and
A. The microphones are here. You’re welcome to line up. Please be aware that we’re going
to have a limited time for Q and A, so please make sure the
question is a question. I know that sounds mean, but if
you’ve sat at a lot of Q and As, you know what I’m talking about. Ask Roxane a question, and
I, and she will share things that will be meaningful
to everybody in the room. And, just be understanding of
the fact that we’re only going to have time for so many questions. So. But, if you want to
line up, that’s cool, and that way we can get started as
soon as we’re read to get started. So, do you still like teaching?>>Roxane Gay: I love teaching.>>Linda Holmes: Yeah.>>Roxane Gay: I do. But, I hate Indiana. [ Laughter ]>>Linda Holmes: What do
you hate about Indiana?>>Roxane Gay: What’s not to hate? [ Laughter ] Sorry. It’s Indiana, and I’m black. So, that should sum it up for you.>>Linda Holmes: Yeah.>>Roxane Gay: It’s just
a lousy place, and I, my dad is always like, “Be careful.” I’m like, “Be careful of what?” I hate Indiana. It’s not the Midwest. I’m from Nebraska. I love Nebraska. Indiana and I have not gotten
along since I moved there. It’s a challenging place. I live in Lafayette which
is in the middle of nowhere, and it’s a reasonably sized town. There’s a Chipotle, but. [ Laughter ] It’s a small town, and
it’s really insular. And, it’s hard to break in, in
terms of the social circles in town. There’s very little to do. The clan is very alive and well. The confederacy is alive and well. White supremacists drive
down the street openly, and they don’t hide it. And, it’s not a place where I feel
safe, and that’s the first time in my life I’ve ever lived in
a place where I feel unsafe. It’s the first time in my life where
I’ve ever considered buying a gun. It’s an open carry state. And, they openly carry. It’s just, I find it uncomfortable. Purdue is fine. I love my students. The Purdue students
are incredibly bright and engaging and a true delight. Actually, I have a really
great class this semester. So, the teaching is really good, but
your job can’t be your only thing. And, again, like turning 40
really changed things for me where I was just like I don’t have
to be unhappy where I live anymore. And so, I don’t know how much
longer I’m going to teach. Not because I don’t love it, but
also because you can’t do it all. And so, I teach once a week
on Mondays, and then I travel for the rest of the week. Most of the time, I’m in
a long-distance situation. So, I live part-time in L.A.,
and I’m a little over that.>>Linda Holmes: Would L.A.
be a good place to live?>>Roxane Gay: Yeah.>>Linda Holmes: You think?>>Roxane Gay: I’m
going to move there.>>Linda Holmes: Yeah.>>Roxane Gay: Yeah. Oh, I guess I should be
quite, “I’m moving to L.A.” [ Laughter ] Full-time. I just don’t know when.>>Linda Holmes: Fair enough. All right. Let’s do some Q and A. Should
we take some questions?>>Roxane Gay: Yes.>>Linda Holmes: All right.>>Roxane Gay: We have a sign.>>Linda Holmes: We have a sign. I know, right? Let’s go over there first.>>Hi, my name’s Lyric.>>Roxane Gay: Lyric?>>Yeah, Lyric, like.>>Roxane Gay: That’s lovely.>>Thank you. I wanted to say thank
you for coming, and I really enjoyed
hearing you talk. And, I wanted to talk
to you about giving up. Like you said with the
scene in the “Bridesmaids”, like I hate it when women give up. And, I feel like with what
you’re talking about now with the resurgence of white
supremacists being in public, a lot of women, especially
black women don’t feel, I guess the fortitude to keep on
fighting the good fight so to speak. And so, what would you say, and
would you even feel responsible for saying anything responsive?>>Roxane Gay: That’s
a great question. Black women have every right
to give up at this point in terms of the political fight. We did what we were supposed to do. We voted. [ Applause ] 94% of black women voted for
Hillary Clinton even though a vote for Hillary Clinton
was, for many of us, a vote against our own interests. And, I say that as a
fan of Hillary Clinton. And, I think we’ve always been
there, and we’ve always fought. And, that’s why so many of us
opted out of the women’s march because we marched whenever you were
killing our friends and our husbands and our sons and our fathers,
and white women rarely showed up. And, white men rarely showed up. And, how many more
times do we have to show up when no one has our backs. If you want to give up,
I support you entirely. I really do. At the same time, I think that sometimes you just give
up for now, not forever. You give up enough to recharge
because you know that our children, our nieces and nephews our
neighbors need us to keep fighting so that we’re not having these same
fights two generations from now. So, it’s a balance of finding
that time to take care of yourself and recharge and also recognizing
it’s no longer all on us. Other people need to step up now. [ Applause ]>>Hi. Thanks for coming.>>Roxane Gay: Hi.>>This is [inaudible]
interesting question. But, I’m interested in, like, what
your processes are as a writer, especially with, like, doing
this really emotional memoir. Like, do you write in blocks? How did you decide what to
write and what not to write? Etc.>>Roxane Gay: Yeah, I don’t
have a writing process, really. I just write. The, for this book in particular,
I mostly wrote it from August 2016 to February 2017 after dragging my
heals and writing a few pieces of it in the three years prior. And so, I was writing it while
teaching and living and being on the road and, so I would
just make myself sit down and write in large blocks. I tend to be, I write every day,
but when I’m really writing, I go for hours at a time. And, I enjoy that very much. And, as I said earlier,
I had a focus. Did it connect to my body or not? And, if it didn’t, I knew
that it had to come out. And, that really helped
me in terms of focus. I also did a lot of looking through
the blog posts that I had written about food and body and looked
at what themes I wanted to take from that and bring into the book. I did quite a lot of
research, and sadly, a lot of those chapters
didn’t make it into the final book about fatness. And, it was just, that stuff
was more appropriate for, like, a straight nonfiction
instead of a memoir book. So, I made choices in that regard,
but mostly, I just wrote as often as I could when I could
when I got down to the point where my editor was like,
“If we want to hit June, you’re going to have
to turn the book in.” And, I was like, “Oh,
stop making sense.” [ Laughter ]>>Thanks.>>Linda Holmes, you
made a comment about how when someone writes a memoir, people
feel like they can give advice, and I thought that was interesting because there’s another memoir
that’s come out in the past year or two that I won’t name by a
young, white man growing up in Ohio. That somehow his growing up
experience, he now gets asked about, like, food stamps and Medicaid
which he is not a policy expert on. And. [ Laughter ]>>Roxane Gay: He’s
trying to be, though. [ Laughter ]>>He’s doing a lot, and
that’s a conversation.>>Roxane Gay: I believe
I’ve heard of this book, yes.>>Yes. And, I was
wondering if you could talk about the different relationship
you’ve seen between your memoir and giving advice and
getting advice as opposed to other memoirs that
have been released. Thank you.>>Roxane Gay: Yeah. You know, the challenge
with my memoir is that the media oftentimes likes
to find a singular narrative, and so several people in the
media have tried to position me as a fat activist and
as the fat activist. And, the issue with that is that there have been fat activists
working in this space for decades, and their work should not be
ignored or overlooked simply because I wrote a book that is not
a piece of activism inherently, or explicitly, that is
explicitly a memoir. And, implicitly, I think whenever
you write about the black body, you’re doing some sort of
activism, but is, you know, that wasn’t its first goal. And so, that’s been really
frustrating, and I’ve also just, again, as I’ve said earlier, received so much advice
about weight loss. I even wrote a blog post about all of the stupid things
people have suggested to me. One of the things this
book has shown me is that people really do
believe fat people are stupid. They genuinely believe that we
don’t know anything about diet, but the reality is that fat
people know about exercise, diet, and weight loss, and we know it all. We know it all because
we’ve tried it all. We’ve read all the books. There’s nothing I don’t know, and
I also, and it doesn’t even need to be said, but I have two
nutritionists and a trainer. I’m good. [ Laughter ] I don’t need the advice. I’m fine, and so it’s
been really frustrating to see how I haven’t
been given the benefit of the doubt while the
Ohio man, we’ll call him, is being seen as an
expert on something because he wrote about
growing up poor. And now, people are trying to
position him to run for the Senate, and like, watch whiteness work. [ Laughter ] Like, you, like, I write
a book about the body, and people talk to me like I’m four. And, this dude writes a book about
growing up poor, and respectfully, I’m sure it’s a good book. But, like, he’s treated
as an expert. Like, you know, I just
met an expert, Matthew Desmond, who
wrote “Evicted.” [ Applause ] And, I cannot recommend
that book enough. It taught me so much about what
American poverty is truly looking like these days and
the insidious ways in which we are infrastructurally
designed to keep poor people poor. Like, he’s an actual
expert, and that is a man that we should be running for any office he wants
including the Presidency. [ Applause ] So, you know. [heavy sigh] [ Laughter ] My opinions have opinions. [ Laughter ]>>Hi, I’m Stephanie. This is my third time seeing
you this year in D.C. So, thank you so much for coming.>>Roxane Gay: You’re welcome.>>Writing all these books
and coming so many times. I’m going to take a hard
left and ask you about “The Bachelor” franchise.>>Roxane Gay: Yes.>>And, [inaudible] about that.>>Roxane Gay: Can you believe.>>Linda Holmes: I can’t believe
I forgot to ask about that.>>Roxane Gay: I can’t
believe who Rachel chose. [ Laughter ]>>Yeah, so can you talk a little
bit, are you watching “Paradise”? The whole scandal this summer. Their incredible missteps on race.>>Roxane Gay: Yes.>>And, where you’re at.>>Roxane Gay: Yes. So, I still love “The
Bachelor” franchise because I recognize
it for what it is. I watched the season
of “The Bachelorette”. I was on the road. I was on tour for the whole thing. I was supposed to recap it, but my tour schedule was
relentless, so I couldn’t. But, I did watch it because
I saved it on my DVR, and I can watch it on my phone. The future is so amazing
to people like me. [ Laughter ] I was like, God is real. [ Laughter ] I thought the, I’m not
watching “Bachelor in Paradise”, and I’m not watching it specifically because of what happened
between Mario, was it? It’s DeMario.>>DeMario and Corinne.>>Roxane Gay: And Corinne. The way they framed it, they made
it seem like DeMario committed rape. And, to do that to a
black man in a country that is actively hunting
black men is so irresponsible. And, that it was a white producer that reported it was
racism right there. And, then, Corinne did not dissuade
anyone until the video evidence came out that she was lying,
and I’m sorry, but this is why you have
to know your history. This is how Emmett Till
began, and so we can laugh and say, “Oh, it’s silliness. It’s just ‘The Bachelor'”. But, it’s not just “The Bachelor”
because she put DeMario’s life at risk, and that was unacceptable. We know he’s trash from
“The Bachelorette”, but he’s trash for being a cheater. He’s not a rapist, and
there, he’s allowed to cheat. That’s what people do. It’s not a man thing. It’s not a woman thing. It’s a human thing, and for
him to be defamed like that. He’s never going to
get his name back, and you can’t put a
price on your name. So, I think it’s a disgrace,
and I do not know if I’m going to watch the next season of
“The Bachelor” because of it. Because they haven’t apologized. They’ve done nothing to
rectify the situation. Once they discovered that
he had done nothing wrong, they didn’t even really come out
and defend him for what they did. And, you know, I think that
sometimes we have to vote with our advertising dollars, and I think it would be
a really nice statement to show them you cannot do this.>>Thank you. [ Applause ]>>Roxane Gay: You’re welcome. [ Applause ]>>Hi. I just want to say as a
long-time reader of “The Hairpin” and “The Toast” and “The Butter”
which you, of course, launched, you and Malorie Ortberg and Nicole
Cliffe are my personal heroes. I just am interested. I work in digital media. I’m really curious as to your
perspective on the future of the indie digital media landscape
considering the shutdown of a lot of these smaller niche websites,
and especially since essays and humor writing and thoughts and
opinions from women and queer people and people of color really
thrived in that space. Interested in where you think
those kinds of conversations and writing will thrive
in the future.>>Roxane Gay: I don’t know.>>Yeah.>>Roxane Gay: That’s a good
question, but I don’t know. I think we’re seeing a lot of weird
retrenchment happening right now not only in terms of niche sites
like “The Butter” and “The Toast” but even, like MTV was doing some
really great prose based journalism and cultural criticism, and
then they pivoted to video. And, several other sites
have fallen, followed suite, and those are
is pivoting to video. And, I never watch video online. The minute the video starts
loading, I move on to something else because I don’t have
that kind of time. I can read faster than
your stupid video can play, and I also get more from reading. If I want to watch TV,
I’m going to watch it on my 70-inch screen
because I’m old. I’m not going to look at
my phone and watch a movie. Get a grip. I’m sorry. I have a whole thing about that. So, I don’t know where our
voices are going to go. I really don’t, and I’m
really worried about it, and I think that we need
to continue creating sites where our voices can thrive. But, it’s so hard to sustain. Nicole and Mallory closed “The Toast” even though
it was a successful site because it was not sustainable. And, it’s not sustainable
because they had steady traffic, but it wasn’t enough to sustain what
was happening, I mean to pay writers which you need to be able to do. So, I don’t know. It’s a frustrating thing.>>Hello. First of all, I would just like to thank you so
much for coming. So, I’m here with my friend who we’re both English
majors at Howard University. Thank you. [ Applause ] I know this is a broad question, and
feel free to take your time on it. But.>>Roxane Gay: Well, thank you. [ Laughter ]>>So, yeah. So, I come back and report
to my friend and write this up for an assignment as
a co-curricular activity. I want to ask you why is it
important that young women of color just continue telling their
stories and all of their iterations.>>Roxane Gay: Yes. Good question. Why should women of color
continue telling their stories? I think that we have to
continue making people aware of what our lives are like. For so long, there has
only been one standard, and that is of the
white middle class. So, even impoverished white people
haven’t necessarily had their stories told. People with disabilities
haven’t had their stories told. Queer people, people of color. I think anyone who isn’t considered
part of the mainstream or the norm, even though we are the norm,
needs to write our story so that we become the norm. And, when you look at the shifting
demographics of this country, we are becoming the norm, and yet,
our stories go untold and unheard. And, when we do tell our stories, people act like we’ve
done something, like, majorly groundbreaking. And, it almost gets overinflated
because they’re so surprised, especially for black women, that you
can string together two sentences. Like, I have a PhD. I hope, I hope I can string
together two sentences or three. And so, I think that’s why
because you need to be heard, and our stories need
to be seen as part of the norm, as part of the main. We are not unknowable, and
we are not so different as to be unwelcome in this world.>>Thank you.>>Roxane Gay: You’re welcome. [ Cheering and Applause ]>>Linda Holmes: Roxane
Gay’s new book is “Hunger”. There is also “Difficult Women”. There is “Bad Feminist”. There’s “An Untamed State”. There are Marvel comics. There is TV to come. There are movies to come. I think you need an action figure. [ Laughter ]>>Roxane Gay: Okay. That’s how we’re going
to wrap it up. Blac Chyna has a goddamn
action figure. [ Laughter ] And, I just thought, well,
first of all, get it. But, second of all, girl why? It’s amazing.>>Linda Holmes: Roxane will
eventually have her very own action figure. Thank you very much, Roxane Gay. [ Cheering and Applause ]>>This has been a presentation
of the Library of Congress. Visit us at

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