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Author Roxane Gay On Her New Book: ‘These Stories Are Dark And At Times Relentless’

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Roxane Gay

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When circulating her recent collection of short stories, Difficult Women, author Roxane Gay said some editors told her they loved it.

Other editors, she said, told her the stories “sort of made them want to die.”

“And I thought, that’s exactly what I’m going for,” Gay told WBEZ’s Jenn White on Morning Shift.

Gay talked about her book, her connection with readers and her work for Marvel comics.

On balancing dark and light in Difficult Women

Jenn White: When you say that’s what you were going for, that you wanted the reader to feel like they wanted to die, what does that mean?

Roxane Gay: I mean I didn’t really want them to feel like they wanted to die, but these stories are dark and at times relentless. But there’s also hope. And I think most readers do see the hope in many of my stories because without dark, there can be no light. I mean the two go hand in hand. But I have a certain aesthetic. It’s not my only aesthetic, but certainly it’s the aesthetic I was in when I was writing these stories, and it continues today. So I wanted people to be affected and I wanted them to feel something in their gut after reading these stories.

On building a female audience

White: How much have you found, as you’re travelling and talking about this book, that women find this instant connection with you?

Gay: I find that all the time. It’s been one of the most surprising aspects of my career. It’s not something I ever anticipated because I just -- I’m a writer, and writing is a very solitary thing. For so many women to feel a connection to my work and to see themselves or some aspect of their lives in my writing, that has been very gratifying and also, like I said, very surprising.

White: Surprising?

Gay: Yes. … Because I’ve always been the outsider. I’ve always been the loner and sort of friendless and weird. So I just never thought that I might be the cool kid for once.

On balancing the intimacy of her writing with her own privacy

White: I’ve heard you say you’re an intensely private person, so I wonder how you’re negotiating that space between this feeling of intense privacy but also this feeling of intimacy are feeling with you.

Gay: Very carefully. It’s challenging because when people read my work, whether it’s my fiction or my nonfiction, they think they know me, and that can be really uncomfortable. And reality is you know what I want you to know about me, but you don’t know me. Or you certainly don’t know the whole of me. And so I have to maintain very firm boundaries where I try to respect the intimacy that I know I’ve created with my writing and that people feel -- and acknowledge it and treat it with care -- (while) at the same time protecting myself, my end and my heart and my loved ones. It’s a negotiation.

On being the first black woman to be the lead writer on a comic Black Panther: World of Wakanda

White: How did you get involved in that project?

Gay: Ta-Nehisi Coates emailed me and said, “I have a crazy idea. Would you like to write a comic for Marvel?” And I had no idea what he was talking about because I didn’t realize that he was writing Black Panther for Marvel at the time. So I said sure, because I just didn’t get. I just thought maybe with the next email he’ll give me more information. And he did. And it was such an opportunity and I was really busy and I still am and I just thought, “I don’t know how I’m going to make time for this,” but I was talking with my best friend and I said, “I really have to say yes don’t I?” and she was like, “You kind of have to say no but, yes! You have to say yes.”

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Click the 'play' button to listen to the entire interview.

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