Roxane Gay: ‘Nothing is perfectly feminist’


Roxane Gay: ‘Nothing is perfectly feminist’

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Roxane Gay is a critic, author and baby elephant fan. She’ll talk with Erica Jong as part of the AJC Decatur Book Festival.


Roxane Gay at the AJC Decatur Book Festival

Bad Feminist. 2:30-3:15 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 6. Decatur Presbyterian Sanctuary

The State of Publishing for People of Color panel. With Saeed Jones, Angela Flournoy, Daniel Jose Older. 3-3:45 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 5. First Baptist Decatur Sanctuary

Keynote conversation with Erica Jong. 8 p.m. Friday, Sept. 4. Sold Out. Emory University’s Schwartz Performing Arts Center.

For information go to

If you want to get a good sense of what best-selling author and self-proclaimed “bad feminist” Roxane Gay is thinking at any given moment, just follow her Twitter and Tumblr feeds. After an hour or so, you’ll see the author of “Bad Feminist: Essays” and “An Untamed State” taking on not just the pop culture narratives that dominate so much of social media, but her own biases, fears and joys.

But it’s her full-length essays, exploring what it means to be fully engaged with the world and the culture around her, that have garnered this novelist, critic and associate professor of English at Purdue University a devoted following.

The AJC Decatur Book Festival invited Roxane Gay to curate a selection of authors to appear at the Labor Day weekend event. Among them are Celeste Ng (“Everything I Never Told You”) and James Hannaham (“Delicious Foods”). Gay will also interview Erica Jong at the keynote event Friday night, appear on the State of Publishing for People of Color panel Saturday and give a reading and talk on Sunday.

In this interview, conducted via email, Gay talks about finding feminism in unlikely places, the need to take care of ourselves and her unabashed love of all things Ina Garten.

Q: Speaking of bad feminism, are you still into Channing Tatum? Your odes to him on Tumblr and Twitter have been something to behold, as was your recap of “Magic Mike XXL.” Help us look through the bad feminist lens to see what you see and what makes it feminist.

A: I will always be into Channing Tatum. He is spectacular. “Magic Mike XXL” simply felt like a feminist movie. Women weren’t treated as inconsequential decorative objects. Their sexuality was not mocked or exploited. Certainly, the movie was heterocentric, but the female gaze was courted from the first moment of the movie to the last. Women of all shapes and sizes were celebrated. Black women’s sexuality was acknowledged. The list goes on. Nothing is perfectly feminist and, frankly, that shouldn’t be the bar, but “Magic Mike XXL” is as satisfying a moviegoing experience as I’ve ever had.

Q: You’ve defended Beyonce as a feminist. What makes us more likely to see Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie as feminist than Beyonce, or Taylor Swift for that matter?

A: We tend to diminish pop stars because we see them only as the image they project — fun, flirty, sexy, whatever. I find Beyonce to be one hell of a feminist, because she boldly claims her feminism, and when she’s out of the public eye she does all kinds of useful, intersectional things. Look at her housing initiatives in Houston. That’s amazing work. The issue with celebrities as pop stars is that, all too often, they become the be-all and end-all of feminism instead of an introduction to feminism. We take Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie more seriously because she has intellectual credibility, grace and a sense of gravitas about her. Hopefully, we can learn to see these qualities in some of the pop stars coming forward as feminists.

Q: You talk about the importance of reading differently. What three authors would you suggest we add to our fall/winter reading lists?

A: Reading differently is crucial, because it allows us to see the world in different ways. It allows us to empathize and consider how people who are different from us move through the world. This fall, check out “Make Your Home Among Strangers” by Jennine Capo Crucet, “Preparation for the Next Life” by Atticus Lish, and “The Star Side of Bird Hill” by Naomi Jackson.

Q: You love Ina Garten. What’s your favorite recipe of hers?

A: She has this amazing summer pasta recipe with macerated tomatoes, basil and pasta that is to die for. I also love her recipe for brownie pie, but you can never go wrong with Ina’s recipes. She is so very good at what she does.

Q: Your new book, “Hunger” (due in 2016), will chronicle part of your life journey toward self-acceptance, and it will include talk of food. But will it also include some recipes of your own? I saw your spiralized zucchini, corn and basil dish on Tumblr the other day and it looked pretty good.

A: “Hunger” won’t really include recipes of my own, though I will talk about cooking and learning to cook for myself as self-care, rather late in life. I’m getting good at cooking, but I have not yet ventured into developing my own recipes. When I am adventurous, I riff on the recipes of others, but must always give credit where credit is due.

Q: In the past, you’ve described the process of turning your body into a fortress through food and will, as a way of coping with a sexual assault at 12 years old. Now that you’re focusing on eating more healthfully and taking care of your body differently, what will you reconstruct the fortress with, and do you still need it?

A: The most scared parts of myself feel like I need the fortress, but, as I lose weight and try to change my body, I am focusing on new ways of managing my fears. It’s a slow, ongoing process. I will probably always have some kind of fortress around me. I just need to find one that is healthier for me.

Q: Do you still look at life in terms of enduring rather than living? How has your view evolved?

A: It really depends on the day. On good days, I am living as fully as I can. On the lesser days, I am just getting through.

Q: I’ll ask you two questions you recently asked critic Ta-Nehisi Coates. What do you see as your responsibility as a writer? What do you wish you were asked more often?

A: My responsibility as a writer is to be true to how I see the world without acting like I exist in a vacuum where my opinion or viewpoint is the only one that matters.

I wish I was asked about my love for tiny baby elephants more often. They are the best.

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