~from Communications Coordinator Jill Salahub

Disclaimer: I’m completely obsessed with Roxane Gay right now. I finally started Bad Feminist recently, which I’d been wanting to read ever since that time a few years ago at a department picnic when I asked Antero Garcia (who at the time was a CSU English department faculty member) about his t-shirt, which said “Bad Feminist.” I didn’t get what I thought was the joke of his shirt, and he explained to me it was a book. I went home and googled Roxane Gay, but it would be two more years before I’d read any of her books.

I’m almost done with Bad Feminist. It rests on my kitchen table, and anytime I sit down there, I read another essay or two. I know I’m late to the party, but this book is brilliant in the way that it merges academic critique, pop culture commentary, and personal experience. The only “failure” of the book is that I can’t sit down with Gay at my kitchen table after I read any of it to talk with her further. To say it is “thought provoking” doesn’t even begin to cover it. The book was a New York Times best-seller, and a Time magazine reviewer called it “a manual on how to be human.”

I just finished Difficult Women and An Untamed State, and am almost done with Ayiti. They are on my Kindle, which I use mostly to read in bed at night after my husband and dogs are asleep. Over the past month, I’ve spent many a night falling asleep in its glow because I try so hard to stay awake, want so badly to keep reading even as my body shuts down. Difficult Women in particular had a haunting effect on me. Days after reading a particular story, I’d still be thinking about it. There were a few of the stories that held me in such a fugue that when I got to the end, I momentarily couldn’t remember what I was reading or who had written it — because I’d been so thoroughly IN it, lost in the story completely.

Harper Collins says of her upcoming Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body,

With the bracing candor, vulnerability, and authority that have made her one of the most admired voices of her generation, Roxane explores what it means to be overweight in a time when the bigger you are, the less you are seen. Hunger is a deeply personal memoir from one of our finest writers, and tells a story that hasn’t yet been told but needs to be.

And finally there is World of Wakanda, a spin-off from Marvel’s Black Panther title, making Gay one of the first black women to be a lead writer for the publisher. She’s also published multiple essays, stories, commentaries, and articles in various publications and collections.

Roxane Gay is an American feminist writer, professor, editor and commentator. She was born in Nebraska to Haitian parents. Her family moved around a lot when she was younger, so she found solace in books, started writing when she was four. “I was a loner, shy and awkward,” but she was close with her two siblings, two younger brothers, and had a happy childhood. It ended with a violent sexual assault by a group of boys when she was 12, a subject she’s written about both in fiction and non-fiction. She says that what happened, “was as bad as you might expect. I came home a completely different person.” In her 2015 TED Talk, Gay said,

There was an incident. I call it an incident so I can carry the burden of what happened. Some boys broke me, when I was so young, I did not know what boys can do to break a girl. They treated me like I was nothing. I began to believe I was nothing. They stole my voice, and in the after, I did not dare to believe that anything I might say could matter.

But — I had writing. And there, I wrote myself back together. I wrote myself toward a stronger version of myself. I read the words of women who might understand a story like mine, and women who looked like me, and understood what it was like to move through the world with brown skin. I read the words of women who showed me I was not nothing. I learned to write like them, and then I learned to write as myself. I found my voice again, and I started to believe that my voice is powerful beyond measure.

Through writing and feminism, I also found that if I was a little bit brave, another woman might hear me and see me and recognize that none of us are the nothing the world tries to tell us we are.

Video: Roxane Gay’s TED Talk, “Confessions of a Bad Feminist”

In her mid-teens, she went to an exclusive boarding school, where a teacher saw in her writing both a promising talent and a very troubled person. He facilitated her getting help and encouraged her as a writer. “He taught me craft, and he also taught me discipline. He told me to write every day. I was very impressionable, and so I write every day.” Gay wrote erotica in her early 20s, before shifting to literary fiction and non-fiction as she completed her graduate degrees and started her teaching career. “Although she obviously wishes the rape had never happened, she knows it has shaped her as a writer. ‘I don’t think I would have a fraction of the fierceness in my writing if I hadn’t had to endure that, and the aftermath,’ she says,” (Roxane Gay: meet the bad feminist).

For Gay, writing is a way, “to think through what it means to be in this world.”

I definitely write to reach other people, but I write for myself first. I don’t mean that in an arrogant way. It’s just that this is me trying to make sense of my place, and how did I get here, and why am I so lucky in some ways, and so unlucky in others? So it starts with me, and then I move beyond the self, as much as I can.

As an adult, besides being a teacher and a writer, and a popular speaker, Gay is also a competitive Scrabble player.