The Chicago Humanities Festival ( CHF ) welcomed New York Times best-selling author Roxane Gay for a book reading and question and answer session on June 19 at the Francis W. Parker School. The sold-out event focused on Gay's recently released memoir Hunger.
Hunger, Gay said, is "a memoir of [her] body." In it, she explores trauma and fatness and their interactions with sexuality, gender, race and body image.
Although the evening's subject matter was rather serious, Gay's wit and sarcasm kept the audience laughing as she read two sections of the memoir and then fielded questions from the crowd of about 1,100. People asked about everything from not conforming to social norms to her favorite franchise of The Real Housewiveswhich, for the record, is Atlanta.
Several audience members lauded Gay for discussing body image, fatness and sexual violence so openly and noted the courage that she must have to be so vulnerable in her writing. "I don't think I had the courage but I wrote the book anyway," Gay said in response. "If I sat around waiting for courage, I wouldn't do anything. I decided to write this book because I so much did not want to write it. I was so scared of it."
Gay overcame her fear and, she said, the writing process forced her to confront her body and her sexual assault in a way she hadn't before.
She encouraged the audience to pursue change, but to "pace yourself. Take time to care for yourself, and I don't mean in a corporate 'self care' way," she said. "You need to have something for yourself and time off when you need it."
She said that she "has no idea how [she's] doing it" herself though. She credits her supportive family, especially her "super cute" five-year-old nice as being her safety net, but she also said that meeting people that she impacts and that relate to her help her get through. "To meet people like you, honestly, is what sustains me," Gay said to an audience member. "It's always nice to know that you're not alone. When you're a fat Black woman in her forties, you are alone in a lot of different ways."