November 18, 2011
INTERVIEW: Roxane Gay
by Melville House
Our girl in Michigan, Abby Koski, interviewed renaissance woman Roxane Gay
MOBY: You have so many great projects going on. How do you find that these different projects balance and complement one another?
Roxane Gay: Everything I do involves reading and writing in some way. I don’t know what goes together better than reading and writing. I am not quite sure how I keep everything together but somehow I do. I think it’s because I am a Libra.
MOBY: From a teaching perspective, where do you see the future of creative writing in academia, is it becoming more or less prominent?
RG: Creative writing in the academy isn’t going anywhere. Certainly, there are shifts in how we’re teaching and what we’re teaching, but there’s a lot writers can learn about craft and sometimes that learning can take place in the classroom. As for prominence, there are few empty seats in creative writing classrooms and that says something.
MOBY: What was it that made you interested in writing? Can you tell us about your beginnings, your first publication?
RG: I’ve always written. When I was kid, I drew pictures, of bucolic villages on napkins and then I wrote the stories about the people in those villages. That was pretty weird but it was so fun to imagine who might live in the house on the hill. I really love telling stories. My first publication (I think) was an essay about identity in an anthology. I was in my early twenties. It was very emo and it’s awkward to even think about that essay now. After that, I started publishing erotica under a variety of names because literary magazines didn’t like my dirty stories or at least that’s what I told myself. I can now recognize that some of those early stories were simply terrible. Fifteen years later, here I am, hopefully writing less terrible stories. Aim high, is what I’m saying.
MOBY: And now you have a book coming out, what was that process like in terms of editing and publicity?
RG: Working with my publisher, Ryan Bradley at Artistically Declined Press, has been great. The process has been pretty smooth as the publisher didn’t request much in the way of changes. We just polished the writing in a few places and he did a great job with the design and now I have this physical thing I can hold on to. It’s awesome and surreal. In terms of publicity we’re pretty low key. I don’t want to be all in your face,”OH HEY I HAVE A BOOK.” My general approach has been to say on my blog once in a while, “Hey, I have a book. I’d love for you to read it.” I’ve also done a few interviews and review copies are out in the world, too. The Libra thing is pretty serious.
MOBY: Why is it an exciting time to be a writer?
RG: Look at all the amazing writing in the world right now. To be a small part of what’s going on in the world of writing is really exciting. I get so much inspiration from the books and magazines I read and get to talk about. I also find that there is a really great community of writers online and I enjoy hearing about people’s successes and failures and gripes. Ambient intimacy goes a long way for writers.
MOBY: Who are some of your favorite contemporaries?
RG: Well, if I were to use the term “contemporary” to denote writers I admire and/or read voraciously, I love the work of Caitlin Horrocks, Tayari Jones, Dylan Landis, Lidia Yuknavitch, Kate Zambreno, xTx, Brandi Wells, and I could truly go on and on. I am also a big fan of Lauren Cerand. She’s not a writer, necessarily, but her blog and Twitter feed are as endlessly readable to me as anything else I read. She is a constant reminder that magic and elegance are alive and well if you make room for them in your life.
MOBY: As founder of Tiny Hardcore Press and co-editor at PANK, in what direction do you think publishing is heading? How do you feel lit mags and independent/small presses play into the equation?
RG: I’m not really qualified to say what direction publishing is heading in. I generally feel publishing is largely on the same trajectory it has always been on though how we read books and magazines is evolving and will continue to do so as more publishers, great and small, learn how to make the most of e-books and other modern content delivery alternatives. There are so many book and magazine publishers, both mainstream and independent. I often say there are too many. Really, we’re all now faced with having to find ways to be excellent, consistently, because mediocrity is easily forgotten.
Roxane Gay is an assistant professor of English at Eastern Illinois University. She is co-editor of [PANK] Magazine, founder of Tiny Hardcore Press and fiction editor at Bluestem. Roxane is also a contributor to HTMLGIANT and numerous other venues. Her first book, Ayiti, has recently been released by Artistically Declined Press. You can find out more about Roxane and her writing here.