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Roxane Gay Spotlight

The first time I heard of Roxane Gay was my sophomore year of college. It was around the time that Kristen Roupenian’s “Cat Person” was published in The New Yorker, and it seemed like short fiction and personal essays were all my little group of newly budding intellectuals could talk about.

A friend of mine was reading Hunger, and after reading the first essay it was all I could do to focus on my classwork rather than devour the rest of the memoir.

Self-described as the hardest book she has every written, Hunger sees Gay prod at her personal experiences with her weight and self-image as an overweight person in a fat-phobic world. Gay writes from a place so personal, it feels intrusive, yet her voice and the flawless way she discusses her own trauma allows the reader to connect with it, to feel their own past and present self glide into hers. At least that is how it happened for me.

Roxane Gay is an author, professor, feminist, activist and much more. She was born in Omaha, Nebraska in 1974, but I discovered her through her very popular Twitter. Her writing is boundless, as she has tackled novels, essay collections, biographies, and more. With her first published book coming in 2011, she has subsequently produced twelve more, with no signs of slowing.

Gay writes from personal experience and reflects on the world she lives in as it affects her directly, honest and open about her experiences. How can you not admire someone so truthful in a world where the fear to be oneself runs so rampant?

When she was just twelve years old, Roxane Gay was raped by her crush and a group of his friends. This experience is something that I cannot begin to describe, as every act of sexual assault affects its victims in deeply personal ways. In Hunger, she discusses this horrific act of violence as she learned to live with it, shrouding it in a veil of shame and refusing to tell anybody for a long time.

Hunger is not only the story of her perceived, “fat” body, but the things it has gone through and how it both protects her and thrusts her into the eyes of others, and how she has been touched, longs to be touched, moves, walks, or simply exists. She reclaims her body and her narrative by writing about it, and shows the reader that hunger isn’t just for food, but desire and drive.

Not That Bad is a collection of original and previously published essays, edited by Gay, “that address what it means to live in a world where women have to measure the harassment, violence, and aggression they face, and where they are ‘routinely second-guessed, blown off, discredited, denigrated, besmirched, belittled, patronized, mocked, shamed, gaslit, insulted, bullied’ for speaking out,” as described by her website. It shines a harrowing light on the experience of sexual assault survivors in all walks of life and at any age.

In a discussion with Monica Lewinsky through Vanity Fair, Gay discusses writing about trauma, and how journalists covered said writing about trauma. Lewinsky is no stranger to media scrutiny, and this piece is certainly worth the read in full as the two women have a candid conversation about how expressing oneself in interviews and through the written word can be so impactful, for both the interviewee and the subsequent watching audience.

In the discussion, Gay says that she knew Hunger had been truly impactful when non-fat readers were connecting with the book, as well as by affecting how fat patients are treated in the medical field. She says on the issue, “that’s such a real problem, fat phobia in the medical profession. And so many fat people go undiagnosed with issues they have every right to seek treatment for. Being fat is not a crime. And so, if the medical establishment can decriminalize fatness a little bit, I will have considered my life a life well lived.”

As a writer myself, Gay has been one of my greatest inspirations not only as an author, but as a woman. To live more like her is to live more honestly, to accept who you are while simultaneously recognizing that it is okay to struggle with it, too.

Your call to action is something I am trying to inject into my own life, as well: your story and your experiences belong to you, and you alone; share them, don’t share them, but make sure you are as honest with yourself as you can be. Protect yourself, and do with your story what you will.

–Claire Beaver, Content Creator

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