Roxane Gay an all-around creative soul. She’s an editor, professor, and writer. She’s not busy scribbling away in a loft in New York City, but her creative juices flow relatively well in a remote town in Illinois. It’s winter, and the wind outside is blowing so aggressively that at times she speculates as to whether—in her words—“Dorothy might come blowing through”.
Born in Nebraska to two natives of Port-au-Prince, Roxane Gay is the author of the book Ayiti, a collection of poems, essays, and writings about Haiti. When she isn’t writing articles for such outlets as The Rumpus, Gay serves as the co-publisher of Pank Magazine.
This spring, she is releasing Untamed State, a novel that allows readers a peek at the life and troubles of a privileged family of the Haitian elite.
How did you fall in love with writing?
I cannot remember how. That love has always been there. When I was like four or so, I would draw little villages on napkins and then write stories about the people in those villages. My parents saw me doing that weirdness and got me a typewriter and then I could tell far more interesting stories. We moved around a lot when I was a child, and I was lonely, but I could write myself a few friends and that was a saving grace.
So, you grew up in Omaha, Nebraska. How interesting!
I did. My father worked for a company headquartered in Omaha and though we would be transferred to various projects around the country, we always came back to Omaha. I had a pretty lovely early childhood—attentive parents, quiet suburban existence. The older I got, the more I realized that not only were we the only black family, we were Haitian and nothing at all like the people around us. This wasn’t particularly traumatizing, and we were part of a small, tight-knit Haitian community formed by the Haitians within about 100 miles, but it made me understand Omaha differently than I once did. It made me understand myself, and where and who I am from differently…to think what it must have been like for my parents in those early years? My goodness.
Robert Frost was quoted as having said, “I have never started a poem yet whose end I knew.” What about Roxane Gay…when she starts writing a short story or a novel, does she know exactly what the ending will be?
It really depends on the story. Sometimes I know exactly where a story will end and sometimes, I need the story to show me, one word at a time.
When you made the decision to become a writer, did your parents have a positive reaction about your career goal?
My parents weren’t really thrilled. They worried, as most parents do, about the viability of writing as a career, but now that they are starting to see my work out in the world, they are awful proud and supportive.
Essayist, novelist, book reviewer, writer…is it hard balancing all these creative extensions of yourself?
Not really. I’m a Libra so I’m always interested in balance and writing across genres makes it possible for me to develop my many and varied creative interests.
What advice would you like to give to those who want to carve a career in writing for themselves?
Read rigorously and diversely; write rigorously and diversely; understand the difference between writing and publishing; do unto others as you would have done unto you; have a good day job.
When was the last time you went to Haiti?
Oh, it has been years. My parents and brother live there part-time, so I feel connected, but I do not go back nearly as often as I should. I hope to go back next summer.
Being such an accomplished creative person, are there some things that you have yet to accomplish that you are planning on making a reality in the future?
Absolutely. I want to publish a book in hardcover. I want to write something worthy of a Pulitzer. I want to keep becoming better as a person.