Roxane Gay on Feminism, Beyonce, Haters on Twitter


Roxane Gay invites us to have conviction, even if it is conflicted. Her writing evokes emotion and humor, causes controversy, and explores topics often swept under the rug. Her most recent collection of essays, Bad Feminist, is a New York Times best-seller. In it, Gay is less concerned about locking down a perennial definition of the word, instead creating personalized interpretations that allow room for complexity. Gay employs a confessional-style examination on topics like privilege, female friendships, race, sex, rape, pop culture, and gender, often in tongue-in-cheek fashion.

Gay is heavily engaged online. Her brazen opinions have garnered her many an internet supporter, and just as many "haters." This duality has perhaps just enhanced her popularity and status as a cultural figure.

This Friday, BUST Magazine and the Loft Literary Center will present an AWP-related reading welcoming Gay along with notable writers Amber Tamblyn, xTx, Patricia Smith, Franny Choi, and Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz. In anticipation of the event, we caught up with Gay on her thoughts on Twitter dramas, defining moments of modern-day feminism, and Beyoncé.

How did the BUST Magazine reading event come about? What do you think about being on the same bill as folks like Amber Tamblyn, Franny Choi, and xTx?

Amber approached me about doing an event at AWP, and we knew we wanted an all-woman lineup. We'll also be sharing the stage with Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz and Patricia Smith, and to have these amazing women together is going to be awesome. I love being paired with such talented writers. It's an honor.

Have you been to Minneapolis before? What's your overall impression of the city?

I have been to Minneapolis, many times. It is one of my favorite cities. When I was in grad school at Michigan Tech, Minneapolis is where we would go for shopping, great food, dancing, and just getting away.

You interviewed Lena Dunham for Vulture last fall. It seemed like you two had a similar viewpoint on feminism, as well as similar experiences regarding online criticism. Do you think that kind of instant response, such as the kind you get from Twitter, has changed the way you interact?

That intense, instant reaction has certainly made me wary, but I try not to let it change how I interact and engage online. I don't want my actions to be dictated by ignorance.

On the topic of online criticism, how do you sift through the critical noise to deem what merits a thoughtful response from you and what gets ignored and brushed off? Do you think there's a way to have complex conversations about sensitive issues online?

If the criticism will make me a better writer or thinker, I will pay attention as best I can. If the criticism is grounded in cruelty, there's nothing productive for me there and I try to ignore it as best I can. There is a way to have complex conversations on Twitter. All parties involved in the conversation have to be willing to act in good faith and think and speak with an appreciation for nuance.

In the last five years, what would you consider to be the most culturally and politically important moments related to defining modern-day feminism?

Beyoncé coming out as a feminist was a culturally important moment. Politically, the retrenchment of reproductive freedom has been an important reminder that feminism is as necessary now as it ever was.

What would you say about each of the following people or groups, if given one sentence: Ilana Glazer, Miley Cyrus, Beyoncé, Pussy Riot.

I am not super familiar with Ilana Glazer, but I have just started watching Broad City, and so far I love the show, its irreverence, and the way it foregrounds an amazing friendship between women.

Miley Cyrus is very young.

Beyoncé is perfection.

Pussy Riot rages against the machine.


BUST MAGAZINE READING hosted by Roxane Gay and Amber Tamblyn 7 p.m. Friday, April 10 The Loft Literary Center 1011 Washington Ave. S., Minneapolis ​ $5 suggested donation (no one turned away for lack of funds)