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Roxane-Gay-Difficult-Women

Now playing on the Otherppl with Brad Listi podcast: a conversation with Roxane Gay, whose new story collection, Difficult Women, is available now from Grove Press.

This is Roxane’s second appearance on the podcast. She also guested on Episode 34, which you can listen to via Otherppl Premium.

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CRUSHcoverWhenever I am asked about my favorite books, I inevitably mention the Little House on the Prairie books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. As a child, I read these books with devotion and obsession. They were so full of vivid descriptions of settler life. Oh, how I wanted to make candy with maple syrup and snow. Laura, aka Half Pint, was bright and willful and charming. These books showed me that it was possible to tell stories about being a girl from the Midwest, like I was, and have those stories matter.

And then, of course, there was Almanzo “Manly” Wilder. If I have a first love, it is that man of good Midwestern stock. I loved him because he was always steady, true, handsome, courageous, strong. He tamed wild horses. He was a hard worker. He was good in a crisis. He loved fiercely, deeply, and knew how to be romantic in subtle, unexpected ways.

Moore_DintyYour book is ostensibly about cannibals. Have you ever eaten human flesh?

My own, I suppose. I used to chew the ends of my fingers.

 

Have you ever met a cannibal?

No, but Montaigne did. You know, Michel de Montaigne, the founder of the essay, he who first gazed longingly at his own navel. Montaigne (which, by the way, is pronounced ‘Mon-taigne’) visited with three Tupinambá Indians who had been transported to Europe to show off as curiosities. Then he wrote a truly peculiar essay about the experience. He is my inspiration for this book: a collection of peculiar navel gazing with a dash of mescaline.

Roxane GayYou have two books coming out this year. How the hell did that happen? What are the books about?

Well, I wrote an essay about publishing two books in one year that covers a lot of ground.

An Untamed State, my novel, is about Mireille Duval Jameson, a Haitian American woman visiting Port au Prince with her American husband and infant son. They are on the way to the beach when she is kidnapped in broad daylight and held for thirteen days because her father is reluctant to pay the ransom for fear that he will lose everything he has worked so hard to accomplish. The novel explores her life before, during, and after the kidnapping as well as how she reconciles the country she thought she knew with the country she discovers upon her kidnapping. This is also about how she comes to terms with her father’s betrayal and how she tries to find her way back to herself.

Gay, An Untamed State jacket art 9780802122513Once upon a time, in a far-off land, I was kidnapped by a gang of fearless yet terrified young men with so much impossible hope beating inside their bodies it burned their very skin and strengthened their will right through their bones.

They held me captive for thirteen days. They wanted to break me.

It was not personal. I was not broken.

This is what I tell myself.

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When I decided to take the plunge last year, at the age of 27, from relative literary isolation into the comparative security of graduate school, I had mixed feelings. I had always struggled with academic institutions, sleepwalking through high school, saved by a natural aptitude for writing, and attending three colleges before completing my bachelor’s degree. I was familiar with the myriad criticisms of MFA programs, too, from their promotion of a “house style” to their failure to provide graduates with tangible benefits or skills.

And yet I wasn’t sure what else to do.

This week, Girls’ writer/director/actress Lena Dunham went on NPR’s Fresh Air to address criticisms that the show is a particularly whitewashed view of entitled twenty-something women emotionally adrift in New York City.  Even before the show aired on HBO, Girls had garnered a tremendous amount of buzz as a series helmed, for a change, by a woman.  Just a few episodes in, the buzz erupted in debate on Girls’ representations of gender, class, and race as well as its worthiness of being the focus of so much debate to begin with.

 

*Editor’s note:  This is the first edition of a new column at TNB featuring links of interest from around the web.

Roxane Gay comments on the resurgent birth control debate over at The Rumpus, in an essay entitled “The Alienable Rights of Women.”

If I told you my birth control method of choice, which I kind of swear by, you’d look at me like I was slightly insane. Suffice it to say, I will take a pill every day when men have that same option. We should all be in this together, right? One of my favorite moments is when a guy, at that certain point in a relationship, says something desperately hopeful like, “Are you on the pill?” I simply say, “No, are you?”

Before attempting to delve into the annals of critical theory, first I must comment on the title, “Adrien Brody,” because I adore Adrien Brody, the actor. I find him and his nose intriguing. I like the shadow-facets of his characters, and how he can bring a full body of darkness to his “good” characters. For this reason, Marie Calloway’s story, “Adrien Brody” (MuuMuu House), spoke to me from the title alone. I also like the aesthetics of modern technology within the landscapes of fictional narratives. I like when writers experiment with this and find new ways to creatively tell a story. I applaud writers who divulge themselves and others in a “real” sense. They are called journalists, memoirists, creative nonfiction writers, and they are to be celebrated when their crafts are true and their intentions are bigger than themselves. Likewise for a fiction writer, the intentions must be equally rigorous, true, and focused on the story. Always the story. To write any other way is masturbatory and easy and pedestrian and sloppy. And when a writer finds herself between the categories of the real and the imaginative, the possibilities are exciting, such as when a writer represents herself as a character within her own narrative—but here there is a backdoor danger. She opens herself for reader responses, not only to her story and craft, but also to her personally, as an entity aside from her art, and this is the place where academic objectivism becomes gray, where critical responses, perhaps more so than in other venues, lose the “gentleman’s code.” Apparently, the code has been lifted in response to “Adrien Brody,” as the code has been lifted for many online debates over form and style and story and writer “legitimacy.” Is it a case of digital diarrhea? Have we lost our good manners when responding to works because it is simply too easy to write whatever pops into our minds and then quickly click ‘send’? Is this an excuse?

I read with interest Roxane Gay’s piece a couple of weeks ago at HTMLGIANT called “Taking No For An Answer: Some New Thoughts on Self-Publishing.” I can understand her motivation for writing such a piece, and I’m generally sympathetic with her opinion, namely, that despite the success of Amanda Hocking and the like via self-publishing, there is much writing that shouldn’t see the light of day. As a self-published novelist since 2003 and a consultant to those who pursue self-publishing, I say the same to writers all the time.

“It is difficult to masturbate about your father, but not impossible, as it turns out.”

“I am the Champion of Failure.”

“What I do remember most though, are the fireflies and how she proved that they were real by squishing one across her palm. It left a fluorescent streak. It made me feel like screaming.”

Over at Big Other, Roxane Gay–author, and editor at Pank Magazine–ruffles some feathers with her investigation into author payment among literary markets. That is, the lack thereof. Is exploitation too harsh a word?

At least one commenter seems to think editors are all but demonized by a readership sharing too much overlap with a community of authors wishing for publication from the same venues they’re trying (failing?) to support. It’s a contentious issue, as the comment thread suggests.

This writer has no realistic expectation that he’ll be paid for publication by smaller markets, but maintains fantasies about lucrative book contracts against all better judgment.

Is remuneration contrary to the purity of artistic ambition?