authors@goodreads: Roxane Gay Answers Readers' Burning Questions

Posted by Cybil on July 13, 2017


Essayist, novelist, columnist, and now memoirist Roxane Gay recently spent some time with us here at Goodreads for an authors@goodreads event where she discussed one of the highest-rated books of summer, her Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body. The book describes how a gang rape when she was a child led to her lifelong struggle with her body, and in particular her weight. This brutal and honest memoir was the most popular book of June in any genre with an average rating of 4.5 stars.

Before Hunger, Gay was best known for her best-selling essay collection Bad Feminist, as well as the novel Untamed State, and the short story collection Difficult Women.

While at Goodreads headquarters, she chatted with us about both writing about her weight and how she's been dealing with obtrusive questions about it while on her book tour. The ever candid and charming author didn't just answer our burning questions, she also answered dozens of reader questions sent to the Ask the Author portion of her Goodreads profile as well.

Here are some of our favorites.

Alicia asks: Which do you most prefer: writing fiction or writing non-fiction? Also, do you think that one or the other has played a more significant role in teaching you about yourself or your world?

Roxane Gay: I enjoy writing fiction most because I get to lose myself in the worlds I create. Nonfiction has played a significant role in teaching me about myself and the world because it has helped me find my voice and figure out how best to use it. Nonfiction has also opened my eyes to so much of what we need to do to make the world a better place.


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Lori asks: Do you listen to music when writing or do you prefer quiet? If you do listen to music when writing what/who do you listen to?

Roxane Gay: It all depends. Sometimes I watch TV, other times I listen to music. It's rare that I will write to silence. I listen to all sorts of things, not any one specific genre or piece of music.

Una asks: I agree with you on all the movies and TV you reviewed in Bad Feminist. Good entertainment is a rare commodity these days. What are your favorite TV shows, current and all time?

Roxane Gay: My favorite TV show of all time is Alias. I am currently enjoying Law & Order SVU and Empire.

Makenzie asks: I am passionate about writing on feminist and social justice issues and am curious as to how you stay focused amongst people who criticize so deeply or don't understand. Do you find it difficult to find journals that will publish this type of work?

Roxane Gay: There is a good amount of demand for writing about social justice. I stay focused by remembering what I'm trying to do with my writing—create change. In terms of criticism, I listen to that which will help me become a better writer or thinker.

Jean asks: Do you think that Middle-Eastern Muslim women should be included in Feminism? Most of the white feminists that I've met said it is impossible to include Muslim women in feminism since Islam is a sexist religion.

Roxane Gay: Most of the white feminists you've met are profoundly ignorant. All women must be included in the feminist project. Any feminism that does not include all people who identify as women, is trash.

Libby asks: How are you so gloriously, magically, never-endingly productive?

Roxane Gay: I live in the middle of nowhere, I don't have children, I'm an insomniac, I love writing, I'm motivated, writing is often self-medication.

Byju asks: Roxane, can you explain what you mean by 'writing is often self-medication'?

Roxane Gay: By that I mean I write to soothe myself when I am feeling angry or sad or frustrated. I write instead of, say, drinking to excess or taking drugs.

Alex asks: If you could read one book for the rest of your life, which book would you choose?

Roxane Gay: Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence.


Have a question for Roxane Gay? Send it to her here.


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Comments Showing 1-47 of 47 (47 new)

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message 1: by Simargo (new)

Simargo Kita wrote: "Wow, I can't believe such a question was asked. Islam is NOT a sexist religion. Only those who are ignorant of it claim this. Don't look at some countries' laws and think they portray their religion. Sexism comes from people's minds and the fact they stick so much to tradition that they made up, which is often quite wrong. "

Actually, in generalising how ignorant people are in thinking such things, you have made an ignorant statement yourself, Kita. Where is your evidence that Islam does not contain sexist beliefs at the root of it? And what are your arguments for thinking that a devoutly religious country does not create laws that are influenced by its religion?

It is a fact that sharia law is influenced in staggering ways by Islam and its religious texts of which are very often in the Muslim world perceived to be massively important to a persons development and existence generally. Sharia law is the code by which many citizens live in Muslim majority countries and so perhaps you have not grasped the concept of this code fully. If you need a definition of sharia law, here it is:

"Sharia, Sharia law, or Islamic law (Arabic: شريعة‎‎ (IPA: [ʃaˈriːʕa])) is the religious law forming part of the Islamic tradition. It is derived from the religious precepts of Islam, particularly the Quran and the Hadith."

Your argument about Islam not having sexist elements is one that I simply cannot understand. I can only think that you have not studied any of the religious texts of Islam or are wilfully blind to extremely clear evidence of such prejudice towards women in the Muslim world. In the Quran, verse [4:34] states (By the eternal word of Allah, no less):

"But those [wives] from whom you fear arrogance - [first] advise them; [then if they persist], forsake them in bed; and [finally], strike them. But if they obey you [once more], seek no means against them."

Fundamentally, a devout believer in Allah would feel absolutely justified in striking his wife until she becomes subservient to his every word. Justified not simply by law but by God. The repugnant asymmetry between a man and a woman's right to autonomy and individuality is canonically validated in this verse from the Quran. Views of which are seen to be absolutely despicable in the minds of the majority of western countries today, but are solidified as following Allah's orders in the Muslim world. However, I am not stating that every Muslim practices such a thing but that does not eradicate it from the pages of the holiest book in Islam.


message 2: by Simargo (last edited Jul 13, 2017 02:40PM) (new)

Simargo Simargo wrote: "Kita wrote: "Wow, I can't believe such a question was asked. Islam is NOT a sexist religion. Only those who are ignorant of it claim this. Don't look at some countries' laws and think they portray ..."

KitaNamida deleted his/her message.


message 3: by Tracey (last edited Jul 13, 2017 07:06PM) (new)

Tracey Danzey Hey Roxane!

Thank you so much for sharing the inside-outside you, your truth and beauty. You are amazingly gifted, honest and a constant light illuminating many of our journeys and transformation filled thoughts.

Noise is a seized opportunity of being heard, being heard is an indicator of being present. Presence is an opening for change . . .
Tracey Fagan Danzey


message 4: by Tatiana (new)

Tatiana Holli wrote: "Wow. Roxanne Gay I cannot believe what a RACIST statement came out of your mouth and that it was incuded here? Most WHITE feminists r profoundly IGNORANT? Shame. Shame to you and Shame to Goodreads..."

That's not what she said. Please re-read the quote. The question stated that, "Most of the white feminists that I've met said..."

Roxanne's answer was directly in response to that question stating that, "Most of the white feminists you've met are profoundly ignorant." Note the "you've" in response to the "I've".


message 5: by Holli (new)

Holli Oh, please. What a weak argument and I was aware of it. So, Roxeanne personally met the people she has called ignorant? You think that asking a question like that isn't racist? WHY did GR choose to list it as one of the questions?


message 6: by Holli (new)

Holli I guarantee u that if the word black instead of white was used this whole thing would be lit up.


message 7: by Tracey (new)

Tracey Danzey In order to bridge cultural gaps, we must be more generous in our listening. We must not be readily offended. There's a greater opportunity to learn from each other's exposure and experiences as it will inevitably differ from the lack of exposure and inherent ignorance.


message 8: by Jenn "JR" (new)

Jenn "JR" Tracey wrote: "In order to bridge cultural gaps, we must be more generous in our listening. We must not be readily offended. There's a greater opportunity to learn from each other's exposure and experiences as it..."

I totally agree - Roxane's response was clear - the person said "most I have met" and Roxane said "they sound ignorant" - that wasn't "all white feminists are ignorant."

Taking umbrage and getting indignant and self-righteous is the zeitgeist of the times. Especially if you are a white person who is afraid of letting go those last bits of bigotry and accepting people.


message 9: by Tatiana (new)

Tatiana Holli wrote: "Simagro, u rock! 😊. I am so tired of ignorant minds rushing to defend this so called religion while proclaiming to be tolerant. Muslims have no tolerance whatsoever! It is he most cruel, violent, d..."

This is hate speech & fear mongering and is very inappropriate.


message 10: by Holli (new)

Holli I knew it. I knew racist comments against WHITE people would be allowed in the media. That was pretty much my point.


message 11: by Holli (new)

Holli Shame on u Jenn for saying that, "Most white people are ignorant. The truth hurts. Sorry.". THEN u claim I am a bigoted white person who is afraid to stop being a bigot! So I guess if I am white and claim that white people r stupid, hateful bigots THEN I am not a bigot. Asking a black person not to make demeaning statements about feminists who r white is racist. U got that backwards.


message 12: by Holli (new)

Holli Tatiana wrote: "Holli wrote: "Simagro, u rock! 😊. I am so tired of ignorant minds rushing to defend this so called religion while proclaiming to be tolerant. Muslims have no tolerance whatsoever! It is he most cru..."
Have u ever their bible? Have u listened to their politics? Do u watch the news and see the mass murders being done in the name of Allah? No other religion is doing that.


message 13: by Holli (new)

Holli Shame on u. More biased personal attacks against someone u don't even know. I guess that is all u have left to attack my intelligent replies.


message 14: by Holli (new)

Holli U have made a racist comment stating that most white people r stupid. That is RACIST.


message 15: by Jenn "JR" (new)

Jenn "JR" Holli wrote: "U have made a racist comment stating that most white people r stupid. That is RACIST."

You've just established that you are here trolling and flamebaiting. I hope you will reconsider your strategy as Goodreads is really not the place for the kind of fights you want to pick. Have a good night!


message 16: by Holli (new)

Holli More slander against my person when all I did was repeat your RACIST comment. I do not want RACIST statements made on Goodreads.


message 17: by Holli (new)

Holli Looks like Jenn deleted half her replies to me.


message 18: by Simargo (new)

Simargo Holli wrote: "I knew it. I knew racist comments against WHITE people would be allowed in the media. That was pretty much my point."

I don't think that the author's point is actually racist here, Holli. I understand why you might think as such but I believe that it comes down to a misinterpretation of what Gay is saying. In answering "most white feminists you've met are profoundly ignorant," she is referring to the feminists which the person asking the question has met, of whom the questioner specified as being white. We should be aware that is not implicitly racist to specify somebody's race or even a group's race although it may be distasteful in certain circumstances.

Though I don't particularly resonate with comments such as "most white people ARE ignorant" either Jenn. It seems unnecessary here to emphasise that white people are ignorant and I conclude that you wanted to imply that white people are 'especially' ignorant by your subsequent comment. That is your opinion and I respect that that is the case but do you not think it's more accurate to say instead that human beings are ignorant in general?
Even within ignorant human beings we can find pools of great intellect or creativity, it is not simply a question of "wise" or "dumb" people but a highly varied assortment of personalities with different strengths and weaknesses in different areas of life. A person ignorant in politics may be a musical genius, for example.


message 19: by Holli (new)

Holli Actually the comment is inflammatory enough that one has to ask why such a question and answer was even put on Goodreads? She has not met those people so how can she imply what they r or r not? That is a bigoted statement. My point is that our society is being conditioned to think such statenents r okay. Which is a perfectly valid argument. I doubt u got to read half of what Jenn's comments were as she deleted them.


message 20: by Holli (last edited Jul 13, 2017 09:09PM) (new)

Holli She also did not get to hear the reasoning behind such ALLEGED statements to know if they were ignorant or not much less profoundly. She has no idea if 3 people constitute MOST. She is saying that people having that point of view are completely uninformed and their opinions r not valid. THAT isn't bigoted? One To allow such a statement to be made without contesting it is make readers receive it as truth. I find the statement offensive and racist.


message 21: by Jenn "JR" (new)

Jenn "JR" Simargo wrote: "it's more accurate to say instead that human beings are ignorant in general"

That was exactly my point, thanks for stating it more eloquently.

I deleted my postings because Holli is clearly trolling/flame-baiting.


message 22: by Simargo (new)

Simargo Simargo wrote: "Holli wrote: "I knew it. I knew racist comments against WHITE people would be allowed in the media. That was pretty much my point."

I don't think that the author's point is actually racist here, H..."


From my point of view, the question "Do you think that Middle-Eastern Muslim women should be included in Feminism?" is a valid one. It has a fairly obvious answer but it is valid nevertheless.

"Most of the white feminists that I've met said it is impossible to include Muslim women in feminism since Islam is a sexist religion."

I can certainly see the superfluity in the feminist's race being specified but perhaps she wanted to establish that she has only spoken to white feminists about this subject. In any case, I personally don't see any malice in the question by including the race of the feminists she spoke to in this particular case. As Hanlon's razor states "Don't assume bad intentions over neglect and misunderstanding."


message 23: by Holli (new)

Holli Jenn wrote: "Simargo wrote: "it's more accurate to say instead that human beings are ignorant in general"

That was exactly my point, thanks for stating it more eloquently.

I deleted my postings because Holli ..."


Well, I left my comments up for all to see. What r u afraid people will see Jenn?
U said and that "Most white people r ignorant. Sorry. Truth hurts.".
That is RACIST.


message 24: by Holli (new)

Holli Simargo,
Are u not going to condemn a RACIST comment such as "Most white people are ignorant. Sorry. Truth hurts.". ??????


message 25: by Holli (new)

Holli Jenn wrote: "Simargo wrote: "it's more accurate to say instead that human beings are ignorant in general"

That was exactly my point, thanks for stating it more eloquently.

I deleted my postings because Holli ..."


Too bad u didn't leave up ALL your comments for readers to judge for themselves.


message 26: by Simargo (new)

Simargo It is a comment that could be defined as racist, depending on how you define racism. I think that you have a very strict definition of the term, I don't know what gives me such an impression. :P
Though Jenn replied to my comment saying that a better way of saying it would be that "all human beings are ignorant", which is not racist. So I don't think there are any real problems with racism here.


message 27: by Holli (new)

Holli So, u do not condemn her reply which is still on here somewhere where she said, "MOST white people r ignorant. Sorry. Truth hurts. ????? That is all there was to the reply which ANYONE would deem RACIST.


message 28: by Holli (new)

Holli Holli wrote: "So, u do not condemn her reply which is still on here somewhere where she said, "MOST white people r ignorant. Sorry. Truth hurts. ????? That is all there was to the reply which ANYONE would deem R..."

Wait. She took it down.


message 29: by Holli (new)

Holli I guess I should just take down my posts too and then claim that people just "misinterpreted them" or " that isn't what I meant."


message 30: by Simargo (new)

Simargo I understand what you're saying, Holli. Our opinions differ on the severity of the issue; I think that it was simply a rapidly written statement that was later corrected by Jenn herself. Disagreement is healthy so I respect your opinion and I won't argue against you any further. I will simply say, have a good day and enjoy your reading. :)


message 31: by Holli (new)

Holli No. She called me a bigot who is against the writers statement because I want to cling onto my bigoted ways and many many more slams and insults which r so bad that she deleted them! She replied many tines insulting me, insulting my intelligence and other things while saying that I am trolling and flaming. I think that is bacjwards to the facts. I find it strange that u cling soreadily to your image of Jenn when u never read any of her comments. Which is EXACTLY what I am saying that Gay has no right to do because she wasn't there and never met those people! She has no idea what they ALLEGEDLY said or didn't say. I think it is only proper for u not to side with someone who HIDES their posts. Why would u do that? Have a nice night tho.


message 32: by Simargo (last edited Jul 14, 2017 07:33AM) (new)

Simargo One final point to clarify where we agree. I concur that it is quite vacuous of Gay to assume that all of the feminists that the questioner speaks of are ignorant. This is because it is absolutely valid to consider whether or not Islam and its unfair image and treatment of women restrains women from being able to openly support feminism. I previously said that it's obvious that middle-eastern Muslim women should be included in feminism. By this I meant that obviously they should have the opportunity to do so, but whether or not that can functionally occur is another, more intricate topic. It certainly seems that there is a prominent discrepancy between the core doctrinal texts of Islam and feminism in its current form in the west. I apologise for not being clearer in this regard. Where our opinions deviate is on the severity of the specification of the race of the feminists they speak of, I think it is relatively unimportant even if it is slightly inappropriate.


message 33: by Simargo (last edited Jul 13, 2017 10:25PM) (new)

Simargo I actually did read Jenn's posts before she deleted them and I do not cling on to any image of anyone. I simply calculate my opinion on what I have read.


message 34: by Holli (new)

Holli Well, based on when u wrote your posts and at what time they were deleted I don't see how u could have read them but there is no way I can prove it. I think calling me a bigot who wants to cling to my bigoted ways is pretty inflammatory. Insulting my intelligence us inflammatory. BULLYING me is inflammatory. Lying about me is inflammatory but I guess u differ on thise oipinions as well. Just like u will not call her out for saying that "Most white people r ignorant. Sorry. Truth hurts."


message 35: by Simargo (new)

Simargo I will not call her out as that is not my problem. I personally don't consider you a bigot, although I think you could be less severe in your expression as it is very aggressive and accusatory which doesn't aid a healthy discussion.


message 36: by Holli (new)

Holli RACISM and BULLYING aren't YOUR problem? Hmmm...insteresing statement. I thought that if you aren't PART of the SOLUTION then u r PART of the PROBLEM. Please by all means bow out of things since you aren't in this equation and keep opinions to yourself.


message 37: by Holli (new)

Holli I guess I should just be called a bigot and shut up.


message 38: by Simargo (new)

Simargo I will put my opinions where I please. With statements such as those the bigot label becomes more and more fitting.


message 39: by Holli (new)

Holli My freedom of speech has been ...CENSORED.


message 40: by Simargo (new)

Simargo At first I was sceptical but now I realise that you probably are a troll. Have fun with that.


message 41: by Holli (new)

Holli I guess I will just shut up because RACIST comments aren't worth taking seriously or personally. I guess it is okay to bully people as long as u delete comments and claim that isn't what u meant.
cENSORED free speech.


message 42: by Holli (last edited Jul 13, 2017 10:51PM) (new)

Holli Am I allowed to say goodnight? Please tell me how to properly speak so I don't OFFEND someone else. I guess my comments were offensive but saying that most white people r ignorant is okay. I guess it is okay to say that most white feminists r ignorant is okay.
All cleared up.


message 43: by Holli (new)

Holli So Sig, u r calling me a bigot? And u claim that I am trolling?
Maybe u ought to watch those aggressive and accusatory statements. It isn't conducive to a good discussion. I guess u care now because it PERTAINS to u. I am a bigot? When did I say something racist to u? I thought I complained about racist comments but u didn't care because it "didn't pertain to u" and that I shouldn't be upset about RACIST comments.


message 44: by Francesca (new)

Francesca Holli wrote: "My freedom of speech has been ...CENSORED."

Except it hasn't. At all. You've been free to say everything you've wanted to say, and you have. Your comments haven't been removed by Goodreads, no one told you that you couldn't share your thoughts and opinions. Your freedom of speech has not been censored. Just because other people are disagreeing with you, doesn't mean they are censoring you. Freedom of speech means that you are free to say whatever you wish and so is everyone else but that doesn't mean that people can't then say that they disagree with you.


message 45: by Francesca (last edited Jul 14, 2017 03:19AM) (new)

Francesca Roxane's comment in response to the question that Jean asked, was done exactly how Jean phrased it. Jean said Most of the white feminists that I've met said it is impossible to include Muslim women in feminism since Islam is a sexist religion. Jean used the term 'white feminists' in her question/statement which is why Roxane repeated it back to her with Most of the white feminists you've met are profoundly ignorant.

Again, she didn't say all white feminists are ignorant she said that the ones Jean had spoken to were. And, no, Roxane did not know everything that they had said but she was simply going off of what Jean had told her and, from that statement alone, I would agree that it sounds ignorant. It sounds like her friends are basically saying that as Muslim women belong to a religion that sometimes has strict views on women we just shouldn't even bother to include those women in feminism which is wrong. That would be like saying we also shouldn't include Christian women as they also belong to a religion that sometimes has strict views on women and that would be wrong too.

Also, when people talk about 'white feminism' or 'white feminists' they do not mean all white people who are feminists. What they're referring to are 'feminists' who only seem to care about the issues that affect white women and that gladly tread over POC while proclaiming to be for equality. It's 'feminism' that only acts and loudly professes support for the causes that only affect white women or that include white people in general but will remain quiet and absent when POC need support for the issues that they're facing. That's what the terms 'white feminism' and 'white feminists' are referring to. As I said before, it does not mean all feminists who are white. You can be a feminist who is white without being a 'white feminist'.


message 46: by Nikita (new)

Nikita Deshpande Love Roxanne Gay. Well done, Goodreads. Sending your team some love and appreciation!


message 47: by Maria (last edited Aug 24, 2018 12:11PM) (new)

Maria Kay "Most of the white feminists you've met are profoundly ignorant. All women must be included in the feminist project. Any feminism that does not include all people who identify as women, is trash."

This comment is in itself profoundly ignorant. Feminism is not only for "all people who identify as women", Feminism is for all people. Period.

Feminism is about political, social and economic equality of the sexes, nothing more, nothing less. It's about women being seen as 'people' by men, other women, other sexes and most importantly themselves. It's not about excluding other sexes, it's about embracing them and embracing yourself. When you see yourself as an equal and not as an inferior, you don't feel the need to exclude others or bring them down in anyway. This is exactly what I hate about misandristic Feminism, it stems from an internal feeling of inferiority. If you know that as a woman (or as a person of any sex) you are as valuable as any man - or any other sex - then you laugh at anyone who believes otherwise, and calmly correct them without needing to lash out. Ignorance cannot be corrected through insults, or shaming, it can only be corrected through reason and patience, and if someone is beyond reason, then they are beyond changing. Insults, aggression, and shaming sure won't change their minds, it'll only create a divisive environment for those who aren't beyond reason, and make you seem ignorant and unreasonable in return. So I repeat - feminism is for all people. Period.


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