So far this year, Southbank Centre has seen many incredible female writers grace their stage from Carol Ann Duffy to most recently, Michelle Obama. On Monday evening, Roxane Gay joined their ranks. Interviewed by Liv Little, the editor-in-chief of gal-dem, Roxane spoke about her most recent works and issues of intersectionality as well as explored topics of race, body image and being a female writer.
Safety Warning: the following article has mentions of sexual abuse.
Roxane Gay is most known for her collection of essays that the complexities of feminism, “Bad Feminist” and more recently, she’s released Hunger, an essay collection that recounts her relationship with her body and the trauma that it has been through. She’s also released a comic for Marvel. Gay’s “World of Wakanda” tells the story of uncolonised black women and tells the story of a black lesbian couple without any trauma, something that is unfortunately very rare. She’s also published two collections of short stories and a novel “An Untamed State,” for which she is currently writing a screenplay. Throughout the conversation, it was clear to see that even though Roxane is a prolific writer, and a lot of it stems from the pressure she faces being a black woman in a white-dominated space. Whilst white men can write one “great novel” and call it a day, Roxane has had to do a lot more to gain recognition.
The evening began with Roxane reading two extracts from Hunger, a book on a topic that she really did not want to write about: her weight. However, she explained that writing this book was incredibly necessary as most books about fatness are mostly just celebrations of weight loss. The first extract she read was a passage on her hatred of exercise that had the entire crowd laughing, as it highlighted her infamous wit. She then moved on to a much darker passage in which she addresses the obsession she developed with the man who gang-raped her when she was twelve years old, the incident that prompted her weight gain. Roxane always tries to “temper the darkness with light” and this was clear through both her writing and the discussion throughout the evening.
The conversation flowed from topics such as her love for reality television in which she notes that “when [she] heard that Love Island was on Netflix, she thought God is real” to the frustrations of being a black woman on social media and in the literary world. All this was done in an honest and humorous way. Gay’s analyses of fatphobia and the demonisation of fat people were extremely insightful, as she highlighted her frustrations with journalists asking stupid questions and constantly giving unsolicited advice as well as the fact that she is still learning a lot about her body, even after having released her book. Another remarkable thing about Gay is that she is completely fine not knowing all the answers. However, she still makes active decisions on whether or not she “has more to contribute as a listener or as a writer.” She emphasises that her writing is for herself and is her way of healing, explaining that everything she’s gone through, she’s written her way out of it.
Listening to Roxane Gay talk was inspiring, powerful whilst remaining hilarious. She embodies the idea that intellectual women can be interested in trivial things such as the Real Housewives and still be respected. That validation still feels needed in a world in which women, and especially women of colour are often reduced to one thing. Roxane embodies the fact this is not the case.
One of the most important take backs from the evening was Roxane’s acknowledgement that there is a lot to do in regard to inclusivity. Roxane brought up the fact that events like the one she was speaking at might not be accessible to all. She highlighted the fact that the prices for the event could be expensive to some and that fat people would not be able to fit into the seats. Inclusivity is extremely important in Roxane’s work and her voice is definitely one that deserves to be heard by anyone who wants to listen.