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BOOKS Roxane Gay talks sexual violence, writing advice in Chicago visit
by Jerry Nunn, Windy City Times
2018-06-24

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Author Roxane Gay made an appearance at City Winery June 19 to promote her paperback releases of Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture and Hunger: A Memoir of ( My ) Body. The event, which The Book Cellar presented, covered a variety of topics, including Gay's writing process.

Megan Stielstra, who has written three collections herself and is currently an artist in residence at Northwestern University, hosted the evening with a casual conversation that led into Gay's outspoken opinions.

Gay has penned the best-selling essay collection Bad Feminist as well as the short-story collection Ayiti. Her writing has appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Time magazine and The Nation, among other publications. Her novel An Untamed State was a finalist for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize.

Notably, Gay and poet Yona Harvey were writers for Black Panther: World of Wakanda for Marvel Comics. Within the superhero story two female lovers, Aneka and Ayo, were shown as former members of Black Panther's security force.

Her cultural criticism work Not That Bad features 29 writers discussing how sexual violence can affect lives. This had her approaching a few key people in its creation and also opening it up for outside submissions eventually. While many people sent their testimonies, she admitted that there was an absence of queer sexual violence and plans on addressing it the next time. "The reality is I only got one submission that focused on woman on woman sexual violence," Gay said. "It wasn't appropriate for the anthology. The writing wasn't where it needed to be."

She is working on an advice book on writing currently to help with this. Gay said, "All writing advice is terrible! It worked for them, but so what?" She suggested having a day job so a person's writing is not influenced by paying the bills.

Stielstra asked the bisexual Haitian-American writer if she had seen the Mister Rogers documentary yet. While she had not, she reminisced about reading short stories in the past about him where she was married to him and they had sex together. The crowd roared with laughter as she said, "It was basically erotic fiction about famous men. Fred was fucking me and his Brylcreem dripped on me!"

Gay mentioned that people telling her stories can be exhausting at these signings at times. While she honors their experiences she has to take time for self care. She doesn't want to discourage people, but said she finds the process challenging.

She described social media as dangerous and "people are overindulging in the news, because so much of it is available. When you go on Twitter, it seems like the world is coming to an end, but when you walk down the street things are fine. The truth is somewhere between those extremes."

The day before, she had commented on social media about "When Children Say They're Trans," an article in The Atlantic's July/August issue that Jesse Singal wrote. "I basically said it was a travesty and written in bad faith. I realize that was intense, but it was the extent of my thoughts," Gay said of the article. "It had some good parts, but was this the right person to be writing about these issues?"

When someone on social media questioned her, she felt that person put words in her mouth and disagreed. "This is what happens now. People make weird assumptions. Nothing productive is happening with online spaces right now," she explained. She warned not to engage with her tweets, but instead with her op-ed pieces for The New York Times. The packed room agreed with applause that night.

Guests stayed after for a book-signing and to ask Gay questions.

For further information on Gay's work and tour, visit RoxaneGay.com .


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