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Roxane Gay (Jay Grabiec)
Roxane Gay (Jay Grabiec)

THE BOOK REPORT

Roxane Gay: ‘Writing brings me joy and keeps me sane’ Add to ...

Roxane Gay’s books include the novel An Untamed State and the essay collection Bad Feminist. She is also a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times and co-writer of the Marvel comic-book series Black Panther: World of Wakanda. Her latest book, the short-story collection Difficult Women, was recently published by Grove Press.

Which historical period do you wish you’d lived through?

I’m black so I have no desire to go back in history, which was not at all kind to my people.

What’s the best sentence you’ve ever written?

“I am not easy to love but I am well loved,” which is a line from my novel, An Untamed State, where the protagonist is thinking about her difficult nature and how her husband loves her unconditionally anyway. I love this line because this is something I could also say about myself. It’s something many people can relate to – feeling difficult but feeling seen by a special someone.

What’s more important: The beginning of a book or the end?

My gut is to say that both the beginning and the end of a book are equally important. In order to get a reader to the end, you need to write a beginning that beguiles the reader to continue. That said, sometimes, you persist with a book, even if the beginning is lacklustre. By the time you’ve invested hours and hours in a book, you want the ending to be satisfying. You want it to be memorable. In that, the ending is more important because it’s the last impression you’re leaving on the reader. An amazing ending shapes not only how the book ends but how the reader remembers the book.

What’s your favourite bookstore in the world?

The Last Bookstore in Los Angeles is one of my favourite bookstores. The store is an endless adventure, in a grand old building in downtown L.A. Downstairs, the store feels fairly normal – lots and lots of books but then you go upstairs and there are secret rooms and mysterious tunnels and lots of strange art. There are rooms where the books are organized by colour and books where you can just buy bulk quantities of random old books for a flat price. The Last Bookstore is both a well-curated bookstore and an experience. It’s also a wonderful place for literary events. I’ve given and attended some of my favourite readings in that space. If you’re ever in L.A., you should definitely check out The Last Bookstore and the other independent bookstores in the area including Skylight Books (which has a tree growing in the middle of it), Vroman’s, Book Soup and Chevalier’s Books, to name a few.

What scares you as a writer?

In interviews, I am often asked about my “process” and I can talk about how I read a lot, and do a lot of composing and drafting in my head before I sit down at the computer to write but I don’t have a formal writing process. I don’t keep stacks of notebooks with notes. I don’t map things out or outline. When I write, I often feel like I enter a fugue state and the words come out as I need them to. It just happens. This is not to say that there is no discipline or structure to my craft but that my writing process, such as it is, is not something that is easily definable or explained. It’s like magic. This is a long preamble to saying that my greatest fear as a writer is that one day I’ll sit down to write and the words won’t come. I’m not talking mere writer’s block, which comes and goes. I’m talking about a writing dead end, where the magic of what writing feels like to me disappears. That would slay me. Writing brings me joy and keeps me sane. Without it, I would be hollowed out.

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