Roxane Gay gives powerful discussion about new book
“What you need to know is that my life is split in two, cleaved not so neatly. There is the before and the after. Before I gained weight. After I gained weight. Before I was raped. After I was raped.”
“I began to eat to change my body. I was willful in this.”
Renowned writer Roxane Gay presented her new book, “Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body,” to a crowd of over a thousand gathered in Hill Auditorium this past Friday, where she discussed her process writing the difficult moments of her life as well as the social faults in approaching weight and sexault assault.
The event was hosted by Literati Bookstore. According to event organizers, “Hunger" is already the store’s bestselling book. Gay is well known for her series of essays titled “Bad Feminist” and her novel “Ayiti,” and she is the first Black female lead author for Marvel in a Black Panther series “Wakanda.”
“So I have a new book out called ‘Hunger.’ Because I’m a masochist,” she said. “But really, this is a book about my body. Often times when you are overweight, or fat, your body becomes a public text, and people project a lot of bullshit about your body. A lot of things like why you’re fat, why you don’t lose weight, and so with this book, I wanted to redescribe the narrative of my own body. To tell the story about my body in my own words.”
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Two passages were read from “Hunger.” One is about her time with her physical trainer — “I have a membership to Planet Fitness, although I have never visited. Basically I donate $19.99 to Planet Fitness every month,” Gay said.
The other is her search for and imagining the confrontation with the man who assaulted her years later. Gay was 12 years old when her classmate, along with several other boys, raped her.
“I Googled him when I wrote this book. I don’t know why. Or I do,” she read. “I sat for hours, staring at his picture on the webpage on his company’s website. It nauseates me. I can smell him.”
She admits that writing “Hunger,” revealing her vulnerabilities, made the process much more difficult than her previous work. Gay explained writing usually comes more naturally to her — therefore, the hesitancy she was facing in writing “Hunger” was a new experience.
“I am used to words coming quickly. With this book... when I was trying to figure out the scope of this book, I thought and thought and thought. When I got somewhere where it made me uncomfortable, I would stop," Gay said. "And so there was nothing to write, because there was nothing going on in my head at all. And so ‘I don’t want to go there.’ And so, I found myself forcing myself to go to those places I did not want to go."
“Oh my God, it was just coming out in the most painful paragraphs. And for me, it was a foreign experience. Usually it’s great, but this was just shitty paragraph after shitty paragraph. I kept looking at it like, ‘Who is this person?’”
While the new memoir revealed much of Gay’s personal thoughts, she also set up borders for topics she would stray away from such as details about her relationships or some of her experiences.
“I really stick to my gut where my boundaries are concerned... I remind myself, I am allowed to have boundaries,” she said. “I am allowed to tell people ‘no,’ even though they are good people. You don’t have to give people everything they want.”
“Hunger” was delayed, forcing Gay to write it faster.
“It was just difficult. I think facing yourself is difficult,” she said. “Looking at your body and looking at all of the baggage I have been carrying along with being fat, baggage that is not mine to carry but I carried nonetheless, was challenging... It was worth the delay. Anything I would have put out June 2016 would have been mediocre at best.”
One audience member, who said she was nervous in writing a memoir on a similar topic, asked if Gay had any fear of her attacker’s retaliation. Gay explained she kept all of the details of the assault vague and used pseudonyms.
“Lastly, I would say that we often fear retaliation, and it’s totally understandable... one of the things you can try to do is look that fear for what it is and try not to let that fear be an obstacle to writing what needs to be written,” she answered.
Reactions to weight were a central point of discussion — especially the term “fat”, and how it has been fashioned to become an insult.
“What they are conceiving is that ‘fat’ is an insult. That I am insulting myself,” she said.
However, Gay finds the term “overweight” to be worse — implying that there is a normal weight. “Obese” or other medical terms have also left her with negative experience from doctors.
“As a fat, Black woman, I am sometimes degendered. I am called ‘sir.’ Every day, I am called ‘sir.’ Which is weird, because I have huge boobs. It’s just like, they are magnificent,” she said, explaining the conception that being fat takes away femininity. “There is always this cultural baggage in this intersection of Blackness and fatness. And, it’s challenging. It’s really challenging... But I find that the Black community tends to be far more accepting of body diversity.”
Throughout the event, Gay was also asked about her opinions on the new Black Panther trailer (“It was so sexy.”), the current Bachelorette season (thrilled to see “31 mediocre white men” court an exceptional Black woman. “It’s about goddamn time.” “Collectively, those 31 dudes make half a good man.”), and the adaptation of the Handmaiden’s Tale (one of Gay's favorite books, according to an audience member. Gay said she loved the first episode, but stopped watching in disbelief after hearing the cast say it wasn’t a feminist work)
As the event neared an end, Gay was asked how many users she blocked on her active, famous Twitter (her bio: “If you clap, I clap back.”): over 2,700 users. “I block people every single day. Because people are trash.”
When asked if “Hunger” allowed some healing, Gay explained that in the beginning of writing, she would have said “no,” as she had to look at difficult stages of her life.
“I feel now I am finally in a position in my life to truly move forward in a way I haven’t been before,” she said. “So yes, it turns out that writing this book was healing.”