Roxane Gay:’ No one is guaranteed love or affection’

The author of Bad Feminist and Hunger has strong terms for incels, harassers in publishing and diet gurus

Born in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1974, Roxane Gay is an author, essayist, New York Times sentiment writer and associate professor of English at Indiana’s Purdue University. She has published a novel, An Untamed State , two short story collections, Ayiti and Difficult Women , the New York Times bestseller Bad Feminist ( which Time publication described as” a manual on how to be human “), and a memoir, Hunger: A Memoir of( My) Body ( Corsair, PS8. 99 ), released in paperback on 7 June. It deals with Gay’s rape at persons under the age of 12 and the lifelong consequences of her decision to make her body as big as possible as a kind of self-protection. She is also the author of Marvel’s Black Panther: World of Wakanda and will publish her first YA work, The Year I Learned Everything , later this year. She lives between Indiana and LA.

From your early forays on to internet messageboards to writing this book, it seems as though language was a key part of processing the trauma of your childhood rape. Did writing offer control ?
Definitely. I think writing always devotes us control over the things that we can’t actually control in our lives, so taking control of the narrative of my body as a public space was absolutely helpful in terms of thinking about my are relevant to my body. Did you encounter personal revelations as you were writing ?
It started as a process of writing what I know to be true and it became a process of revelation. I was able to make some realisations about myself that previously I hadn’t made and it genuinely forced me to confront my relationship not only with my body, but with food. I mostly saw how unkind I had been to myself when my body has actually gotten me through quite a lot in life. And recognising that, in many ways, I was holding on to the weight for the wrong reasons and the only one that was really hurting was myself. There is some difficult material in the book regarding the effect the attack had on your sex life, particularly when you write that you have to think about your attacker if you want to experience pleasure during sexuality. What kind of responses have you had to that section ?
I actually haven’t heard anything about that specific part. I wasn’t thinking about the reader when I wrote that. I was simply writing my truth. That revelation felt connected to the chapter about ceasing Yale to move to Arizona, which alluded to some complicated sex encounters. Could that be the kernel for another memoir ?
No, that will not[ giggles ]. As long as my mothers are around that will not become part of another memoir. I never supposed I would write one memoir, so I can’t say I’m never gonna write another, but I have no plans to. I don’t know that I have anything more to say about myself. You do lots of different kinds of writing- fiction, memoir, essays, columns, graphic fictions, television. Is there any you do and keep private ?
No. I think that sharing the work with the world brings closure to the process of any devoted volume or piece. When you published Hunger in June 2017 , nobody could have foreseen the conversation about rape culture that would originate following the Harvey Weinstein allegations. Has that changed the tenor of discussion around the book ?
No- I toured this volume before all of that came out. I think it’s definitely going to shift the tenor when I tour the paperback in June, though. Have you been encouraged by this conversation ?
I have. It has been also frustrating to see the ways in which people are dismissive of what has come out, but in general I am encouraged to see women and men coming forward about their experiences with sexual violence. And we’re starting to see at least some public reckoning. I don’t know that the justice system has caught up yet, because regrettably in the US there’s a statute of limitations. But it’s been a long time coming. It’s up to us to make sure that this conversation does not leave the public sphere any time soon. You’ve said there are Weinsteins in publishing. Have you seen this reckoning hit your field ?
No, we’ve got a long way to go in publishing- frankly, in all realms. With[ the allegations against] Junot Diaz, that doorway is starting to open and it’ll be interesting to see what more “re coming out”, if anything. I’m not even interested in this happening publicly. It only needs to happen. You recently tweeted about the so-called ” incels”, the internet subculture whose members refer to their inability to find a romantic or sexual partner as” involuntary celibacy “. Girls are taught that humen will lay claim to their bodies. Why are we culturally resistant to teach boys that they don’t deserve sex ?
That’s just the way it is. We have to change that and we have to teach both young men and young women about enthusiastic permission. And that a woman can say ” no” at any time and it may suck, but you still have to listen to that “no”. Until we get there, we’re gonna continue to see things like in Santa Fe, where a young lady repudiated a man and he went to school and killed her and nine others. No one is guaranteed love or affection and I don’t say that callously, because I think that love and affection and sex are important and that everyone should have their shoot. But the men that can’t get laid, there’s a reason. It’s because they’re sociopaths and nobody wants them, and I’m not gonna cry for them. Who’s your literary hero ?
I love Zadie Smith. She’s incredible and the opportunities she takes in both her fiction and nonfiction are just superlative- especially NW . What’s on your bedside table ?
I’m reading The Stand by Stephen King and Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi, a fantasy book grounded in African tradition about three young person on a quest to restore magic to the nation of Orisha.

I’m in the middle of Family Trust by Kathy Wang, Ivy vs. Dogg: With a Cast of Thousands ! by Brian Leung, about this small town that elects a youth mayor and things go awry, and America Is Not the Heart by Elaine Castillo. Are there any genres you avoid ?
Oddly enough, I don’t read a lot of nonfiction or much self-help. There’s nothing wrong with it – it’s just not for me. You wrote an essay about getting weight-loss surgery to reduce the dimensions of the your belly in January. How are you feeling ?
I feel fine. I’ve definitely settled into a routine. It’s been four months so I’m still learning a lot and there are still a lot of changes, but I have definitely adapted to those changes. Are they the changes you hoped for ?
I simply hoped for a change. You often discuss the above pernicious influence of diet culture, which publishing perpetuates. Should there be more regulation on the messaging and medical integrity behind volumes about diets, food and bodies ?
Absolutely, but I couldn’t begin to know how to begin to implement that. The diet industry is predicated on the notion that fatness is unhealthy and that everybody’s fat. And these things are untrue. And I believe people need to recognise that a lot of the so-called ” medical studies” about fatness are actually paid for by diet companies and weight-loss drug manufacturers. We have to follow the money more carefully and look at context. Until we do that I believe a lot of people are going to continue to buy into these damaging notions that are perpetuated by diet volumes and diet programmes.

* Hunger by Roxane Gay is published by Corsair( PS8. 99 ). To order a transcript for PS6. 99 go to guardianbookshop.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p& p over PS10, online orders merely. Phone orders min p& p of PS1. 99. Gay will make her debut UK appearance in conversation at the Southbank Centre on 10 December

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