Roxane Gay: White Feminists, Do the Work Yourselves
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because her advice could help you buck up and do the work.
Roxane Gay’s started-from-the-bottom story — which made it into an episode of OZY’s new series, Breaking Big — is an inspiration for many who might think they don’t have the pedigree to be a successful author. At OZY Fest recently, Gay talked about her next book and how she’s sick of getting well-meaning emails.
Why do you think society has struggled so much to define feminism?
Feminism is simply about equity and making sure women have the same opportunities as men — that we’re paid the same as men, that we’re not penalized. People act like they don’t know what feminism is because they don’t want to admit that it’s that simple and we’re still so far from achieving it. When people ask me what feminism is, I just tell them to read a book.
I’m not optimistic, but I am hopeful.
Do you remain optimistic that things will get better from here?
I don’t remain optimistic at all. Look at the president. I’m not optimistic, but I am hopeful.
What is your tool kit to deal with White feminism?
The main tool in my White feminism tool kit is to make White feminists do the work for themselves. Not a day goes by that I don’t have an email from a White feminist in my inbox asking, “What can I do?” and I say the first thing you can do is stop asking Black women to answer that question. I always resist this narrative that my job as a Black woman is to educate the world.
You just won an Eisner Award for your work on a comic, Black Panther: World of Wakanda. How did that come about?
In December, Ta-Nehisi Coates emailed me in the middle of the night and said, “I have a crazy idea: How would you like to write a comic for Marvel?” and I said, “Oh, sure,” thinking, “That’s weird there’s a small comic company named Marvel when there’s already the big Marvel.” The collaborative nature of writing a comic and working with the artist was a new thing to try, but it’s also been wonderful to write Black lesbians into the Marvel canon — and win an Eisner. It feels really good.
What kind of creative work would you like to try that you’re not already doing?
I would love to write a musical. I love musicals; I love everything about it. Yes, yes, let’s do that — let’s have a picnic and sing about it. I’m into all of it! I would love to write a sequel to Dreamgirls called Magic.
You’re working on a book of advice for writers — How To Be Heard, which was a $1.25 million deal. What kind of advice?
It’s gonna be a book on how to use your voice. I get questions on how to find your voice, as if you can go on a scavenger hunt and, oh, there it is behind a tree! But your voice is already inside you. Ninety percent of the book is gonna be practical: Here’s how to start a writing career, here’s how to handle the kinds of attention that come when you have a successful writing career, here’s how to handle rejection. I think all writing advice is bad, and more than anything I’m going to try to handle the arbitrary nature of writing advice.
OK, but what advice do you have?
The biggest thing I tell up-and-coming writers is to treat your writing like a job, and keep your appointments with yourself. I still believe in traditional publishing, as flawed as it is. Self-publishing is not a savior; 99 percent of all self-published books are the kind of thing you’re selling to your friends and family, and even they won’t buy it. If you don’t trust big publishing, which is entirely fair, then go with a small press. If you want to be in traditional publishing, there is room for you. It’s not as simple as it sounds — but it’s as simple as it sounds.