I’m kind of a Roxane Gay groupie. I’ve never quite felt like anyone’s groupie. Even in my teen years, when I was in love with Elton John — well, actually I was in love with Bernie Taupin but I don’t think I understood then that it was the lyrics calling me more than the singer — even then I was most definitely not a groupie.
Before the literary world caught the bright flame we know as Roxane Gay, I had discovered her essays thanks to social media. She is a presence on Facebook and Twitter, among others, but those are the two where I catch her. Her essays have punched me over and over again, in the best possible way, bruising my brain so I have to think about things I might otherwise look away from. Regular readers of Pamwrites might remember my post in April of 2012 when I wrote Roxane Gay We Nominate You. I began with:
The web is buzzing again with the righteous indignation of women about the infuriating discrepancies in publishing of men vs women. We had the American Society of Magazine Editors report and, as Alexander Nazaryan reports, “No, seriously. Many are up in arms about the complete lack of female writers nominated for the major categories of Reporting, Feature Writing, Profile Writing, Essays/Criticism and Columns/Commentary.” No females nominated in any of the major categories, despite some fine writing in those categories. Quite fine. Excellent, in fact. Read Nazaryan’s report and be angry.
Last February, I wrote about the VIDA count and the gender disparity in publishing. This February, another VIDA count, another round of frustrating, but not surprising news. Another year of same song, same story, but most often coming from people with penises.
And, I ended with a call to Roxane with one n and my readers:
But, this week also brought us the thoughtful, inspiring writing of Roxane Gay in Beyond the Measure of Men in The Rumpus. She plainly addresses the “here we go again” feeling I had when the buzz re-ignited this spring.
“The time for outrage over things we already know is over. The call and response of this debate has grown tightly choreographed and tedious. A woman dares to acknowledge the gender problem. Some people say, ‘Yes, you’re right,’ but do nothing to change the status quo. Some people say, ‘I’m not part of the problem,’ and offer up some tired example as to why this is all no big deal, why this is all being blown out of proportion. Some people offer up submission queue ratios and other excuses as if that absolves responsibility. Some people say, ‘Give me more proof,’or, ‘I want more numbers,’or,’Things are so much better’ or, ‘You are wrong.’ Some people say, ‘Stop complaining.’ Some people say, ‘Enough talking about the problem. Let’s talk about solutions.’Another woman dares to acknowledge this gender problem. Rinse. Repeat.”
She offers solutions to editors and publishers that are simple, stark and reasonable. Please, read her essay. Ponder it. Don’t miss her section on the label of “women’s fiction.” Then, let’s recruit Roxane Gay to be the Gloria Steinem of the Women’s Publishing Movement. She is brilliant. She is right. Follow her work.
“Change requires intent and effort. It really is that simple.” Roxane Gay
My imaginary effort didn’t take off, or maybe it did, but in a quieter, truer to R. Gay way.
I saw her in person at the AWP in Chicago in 2012 briefly at the PANK table and then again at the Literary Death Match of Roxane vs Jane Smiley. I went all shy literary groupie — couldn’t say much, couldn’t ask for a picture, just was awe-struck to be in her presence — as much as she would HATE that expression, that’s the truth of it.
She was in Milwaukee in May, touring for An Untamed State. I was in Cape Cod then, cranking away on my novel so I had to miss her reading at one of my all time favorite bookstores. I had received an ARC, advance reader copy, of the book after replying to a Facebook post where she offered to send a few to the first five people who commented, or something like that. Remember? Groupie? I hadn’t read it yet as I’d been plowing away on other books and projects. I made the mistake of beginning it this week and was up until 3 a.m. – truly – the night before her second reading in Milwaukee this year — yesterday, August 8th. It was one of those rare, for me, cases of I had to finish it before I could sleep. The writing in this book is so true, so honest, so brutal at times that I can’t recommend it for everyone in my reader circles. There is nothing easy about scenes of a woman being brutalized, nor should there be. Be brave. Buy it and read it and have yourself one little, or huge, mental wrestling match about compromise, survival and love.
A friend of mine, Alexandra Rosas, got a better shot of Roxane during the Q & A then I was able to:
For her visit last night, touring now for her essay collection, Bad Feminist, she began by apologizing to anyone who had been at her May reading at Boswells because she was beginning with the same brief reading – a hysterical fantasy essay about Mister Rogers. It began something like this:
I played Scrabble Saturday and did pretty well. I won more games than I lost. I played a man who wears cardigans. It is strange when men wear cardigans and they aren’t Mr. Rogers. Mr. Rogers was able to pull that off because he’s smooth and awesome and teaches us important things. I miss Mr. Rogers. I would like to snuggle up next to Mr. Rogers while wearing his cardigan. I bet he smells like Brylcreem and Old Spice and pot roast. I would make Mr. Rogers a pot roast and I would do so while wearing a smart white apron with a lace hem I tied around my waist with a neat bow.
I found a link to this piece here. You’ll need to scroll down a bit, but the whole funny piece is there. Keep scrolling until you get below her tribute to The Chronology of Water by Lidia Yuknavitch And yes, in this piece from her blog, you will find references to a rejection from The Emerson Review, hurtful people, anger, Charlie Sheen, Lidia Yuknavitch and Mister Rogers. There is no subject she will flinch from. She is not one of those literary types who disdains popular culture, who would only get her news from The New York Times or NPR. I’m quite sure she checks them out, but they will not limit her experience. And I love her for that. Too many literary types are snooty types, IMHO. Not that I’m judging. Okay, yeah, I know, I am.
I was trying to take some notes at this reading. Trying to have a list of quotes to share, but like when I was reading An Untamed State the night before last, I was swept away by the marvelous Ms. Gay. She said she wrote this book of essays because she “used to call myself a bad feminist as a joke-” As she read to us from a few essays in the book, I found myself tracking along with her in the book, underlining, check-marking, exclamation pointing – doing all those things writers do in books they love. (I don’t keep reading or bother writing much in books I don’t love – that’s the sad truth. It’s a post-cancer thing – who has time to waste on books that aren’t speaking to them?)
In a question from the audience about the irony of possibly becoming a spokesperson for feminism, while claiming the title “bad feminist,” Roxane said, ” You can put me on all the pedestals you want and I’m going to keep parachuting off.” You see, she says she’s a bad feminist because she’s human, because she ‘s messy. Wait, let me give you her words, from the book:
….I’m not trying to be an example. I am not trying to be perfect. I am not trying to say I have all the answers. I am not trying to say I’m right. I am just trying — trying to support what I believe in, trying to do some good in this world, trying to make some noise with my writing while also being myself: a woman who loves pink and likes to get freaky and sometimes dances her ass off to music she knows, she knows, is terrible for women and who sometimes plays dumb with repairmen because it’s just easier to let them feel macho than it is to stand on the moral high ground……
I didn’t ask any questions. I was third in line for the signing and I suggested to the first young woman, a high school girl who was working on a paper about women writers of color and who was overflowing with adoration of Roxane’s work, that I take a picture and email it to her. (Did I perhaps hope someone might offer to take my picture too? Um, maybe.) Then, the second woman in line, who I happen to know, asked for a shot and I got one. My turn. Number one and number two had boogied. And I’m not being snarky – I totally get it. The place was packed. It was a good idea to get out of the way.
Number four didn’t offer. I wouldn’t ask. Got my signatures, no pictures with me and RGay and know what? That’s really okay. This event was so not about me and I do get that. But, I do have this:
If you have yet to discover Roxane Gay, do yourself a favor. Get on board the R.Gay train. You’re in for quite a ride.