The Roxane Gay interview


I hang out with a group of lady writers—once a month we get together and gossip and talk writing and very occasionally give props to people who deserve it. One woman who came up in conversation recently is today’s interviewee. A couple of my pals had made the trek down to her rather isolated university town to visit her and were gushing about the visit. “Who?” I asked, and when they repeated her name I was like, of course—I see her name everywhere and she is awesome. She wrote “How To Be Friends With Another Woman,” which is to be cherished. Her very abbreviated bio is that she teaches English at Eastern Illinois University. She is the author of Ayiti, a mix of fiction, nonfiction and poetry. She is the co-editor of PANK, the essays editor for The Rumpus and the fiction editor of Bluestem. She is a legit Scrabble champion. She can be found at multiple homes online but you can start here and here.

Tell me about why you first titled your blog “I Have Become Accustomed To Rejection” and if and how that title has changed in relation to your writing career since you began it.
When I started my blog, I wanted some kind of schedule to keep me blogging regularly. I was receiving rejections regularly so it felt like a good reason to blog and the title came out of that. I still get rejected and am accustomed to rejection so the title continues to be appropriate, though at times I do feel a bit strange keeping that title. In truth I am rejected nowhere near as much as I once was. 

How do you decide which writing goes where—in terms of what’s for your blog, Tumblr, PANK, Salon, HTML Giant and so on?
These days, the determining factor is money. I write weekly for Salon now about race and gender. Generally, I would write about things related to the literary community for HTMLGIANT, and more personal musings on my blog, and personal political musings for publications beyond my blog. This is a terrible answer. I just get a sense of where to send my writing after it is written.

In that same vein, you write so much nonfiction and comment so much on culture, how and when do you switch gears to fiction? Is it much of an effort?
I find that my nonfiction and fiction writing function in largely the same gear. It’s more a question of finding the time to write fiction when I have so many nonfiction deadlines.

How does teaching fit into your life as a writer? In my hypothetical teaching life I’d be worried that critiquing other students’ work would leave me too spent for my own.
I love teaching and mostly it makes me a better writer because I find myself always learning alongside my students.

What are the best and worst parts about living in a rather remote location?
The best part of living in this place is no traffic and the beauty of the sky on a starry night. Everything else, absolutely everything else is terrible.

Which pieces that you’ve published elicited the strongest reaction from students who found your writing on their own time?
Students have been really fond of an essay I wrote about Chris Brown and women who would let him beat them and my short story “North Country”.

When was the last time you visited Haiti? How has it changed since when you were there as a child?
I haven’t been to Haiti in years. The country has changed a lot or rather, I have changed. Now, I actually understand what I see and encounter when I am in Haiti. As a child, it was paradise—beaches, mountains, family, joy. I saw the poverty but didn’t understand it. Now I do and it’s…. heartbreaking. It makes me feel impotent. It makes me painfully aware (but in a useful way) of my privilege.

What are some of the biggest, wrongest assumptions people tend to make about life in Haiti?
People tend to assume that everyone in Haiti is abjectly poor, that you’ll get AIDS walking down the street, that there are no, like, nightclubs and restaurants. The American media has certainly done a number on the country and there is truth in what is reported. The problem is that it is only one fraction of the truth.

Let’s talk about voodoo, and how everyone from Haiti practices it. What’s its most useful application and what are the hardest items to acquire? Is it the chicken feet?
You generally get your voodoo kit when you step off the airplane. The hardest item to acquire is the live goat but where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Which famous guys have the best arms? Do tattoos diminish or increase their awesomeness?
Channing Tatum, Vin Diesel, and The Rock all have spectacular arms. Tattoos are fine on arms (because I have them on my own arms), but they don’t do anything specific for me.

What’s your proudest Scrabble moment?
My proudest Scrabble moment, by far, was when I won my first tournament. I was flush with victory for quite some time after that win because I trounced my nemesis and he got so angry he stalked away from our table.

How would you describe your idea of perfect success, career-wise?
My idea of success, honestly, I’m kind of living it already. I get to read and write for a living. Anything beyond this is gravy.

How does it feel to be the 355th person interviewed for
It feels spectacular.