A Conversation with Roxane Gay

Roxane Gay’s writing appears in Best American Mystery Stories 2014, Best American Short Stories 2012, Best Sex Writing 2012, A Public Space, McSweeney’s, Tin House, Oxford American, American Short Fiction, Virginia Quarterly Review, and many others. She is a contributing opinion writer for the New York Times. She is the author of the books Ayiti, An Untamed State, the New York Times bestselling Bad Feminist, the nationally bestselling Difficult Women and the New York Times bestselling Hunger. She is also the author of World of Wakanda for Marvel. She has several books forthcoming and is also at work on television and film projects.

Conscience: Why write?

RG: I enjoy writing. I have a great many opinions and a grand imagination.

Conscience: What is the worst thing about writing?

RG: There isn’t really a worst thing about writing. What’s hard is when the words don’t come. It’s the not-writing that is the worst.

Conscience: What advice would you have for a person thinking about writing for a living?

RG: Have a day job that pays a steady income that will cover your monthly expenses. It is so much easier to create when you aren’t stressed about making ends meet.

Conscience: There exist many people who would say that being prochoice and Catholic—or even feminist and Catholic—is oxymoronic. What would you say to them?

RG: I would tell them they are wrong. If you are a person of faith, you must believe women are equal to men, if not superior. And if you are a person of faith, you must have the compassion to understand that women should have the inalienable right to make decisions about their bodies and their reproductive lives. We should trust women to make the best choices for them. I prioritize the sanctity of a woman’s life.

Conscience: What inspires you?

RG: These days, people who are willing to challenge the status quo inspire me. Apathy and cynicism are easy. A willingness to actively contribute to change is much harder and so very inspirational.

Conscience: In 2016, you were asked to speak at St. Louis University—a Catholic university—and, just before you arrived, the University indicated to you that certain topics were off-limits. How did you feel about that and what do you make of free speech on US campuses today?

RG: I thought their milquetoast attempt at censorship was bizarre, particularly for a Jesuit university. I rather admire Jesuits and how passionate they are about education and critical thinking. It felt so contradictory for them to suggest that I should only talk about what they wanted me to talk about. Also, it was kind of funny that they didn’t know that (a) I am Catholic, however lapsed and (b) my brother went to SLU, and played on their soccer team. Know your audience, SLU!

Conscience: In these times, when the church is so gripped by turmoil, what gives you hope for the future of faith?

RG: I am not sure I have a lot of hope for the future of faith right now. It feels like we keep getting further and further away from what faith should be as people focus too much on doctrines designed to judge, divide and ostracize.

Conscience: Are you satisfied with where feminism is at today?

RG: Given that women are still paid a fraction of what men earn, reproductive freedom is under attack, sexual violence is pervasive, maternal mortality—particularly for black women—is a real issue and so much more, I am not satisfied with where feminism is at. I am not satisfied that, in 2018, people still don’t know or pretend not to know what feminism is. I am not satisfied that we still need to articulate the importance of feminism. In short, there is a lot of work for feminists and their allies to do.

Conscience: What are you working on now? What’s next for you?

RG: I am working on several books, film and television projects, a comic series and learning how to say no.

Conscience: What are the top-three songs on your playlist?

RG: “Hold Up” by Beyoncé, “Nothing Even Matters” by Lauryn Hill, and “Water Under the Bridge” by Adele.

Conscience: What one book would you make sure to pack for your desert island? What beverage

RG: The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton, and Pepsi.

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