Roxane Gay

Roxane Gay’s writing has appeared in Best American Short Stories 2012, Best Sex Writing 2012, Oxford American, American Short Fiction, Virginia Quarterly Review, NOON, The New York Times Book Review, The Rumpus, Salon, The Wall Street Journal’s Speakeasy culture blog, and many others. She is the co-editor of PANK and essays editor for The Rumpus. She teaches writing at Eastern Illinois University. Her novel, An Untamed State, will be published by Grove Atlantic and her essay collection, Bad Feminist, will be published by Harper Perennial, both in 2014.

11 Favorite Small Press Reads of 2012

2012 was a great year for reading, the best in recent memory and lot of the great books I read came from small presses. Eleven stood out, even among a great group of books. I won’t say these are the best because that is an arbitrary, fleeting designation. These books are my favorites–ones I keep going back to because of a story or a poem or a turn of phrase that has lingered. These books are examples of beautiful writing that does more than appear on the page.












The Sovereignties of Invention by Matthew Battles


Presses & Web Hype / 5 Comments
December 28th, 2012 / 4:48 pm

Tangible Values


Is there anything journalists love writing about more than the death of the publishing industry? Every few weeks there is a new surge of articles and essays pointing at the sky, suggesting said sky is falling, even though nothing ever seems to reach the ground. Magazines are going all digital, they say! Print is dying! Print must be dying so we cannot look for fallibility anywhere else. In recent weeks, there has been a lot of talk about the merger between Penguin and Random House. Two massive publishers will become even more massive.

Today, The New York Times, published yet another article, predicated on the assumption that publishing is declining. As I’ve asked here before, has any industry functioned in decline as long as publishing? Medical doctors should be studying publishing because, clearly, the key to immortality therein lies.

Perhaps it isn’t that publishing is dying but, instead, publishing is being killed. At the popular Brain Pickings, Maria Popova wrote a footnote to a post about Jane Mount, an artist who creates portraits of writers based on their ideal bookshelves. The Ideal Bookshelf featuring Mount’s art and essays by each featured writer, was released today from Little Brown. It’s an interesting idea, beautiful art, and offers us the insight we seem to crave into how the minds of great writers work.


Presses / 15 Comments
November 13th, 2012 / 4:47 pm

How NOT to Put Together a Short Story Collection

I have this short story collection called May We Shed These Human Bodies that just came out from Curbside Splendor, and I think probably the thing people ask most often about it is “how do you put together a short story collection?” And honestly, I have no fucking clue. But I can tell you that this version of the collection, the version that Curbside Splendor picked up, is probably the tenth version of this collection. It has had other names, other stories, other orders and versions, has been longer or shorter, and at one point in its long history of rejection sat in my laptop’s trash for four months. It has been rejected or ignored by nine publishers in its various forms. So what I can tell you, judging by my own experience only, is how NOT to put together a short story collection – at least, if you want it to be published.

DO NOT say to yourself, Well, I’ve got a lot of stories now, so I guess it’s time to shove them all into a manuscript and send it around. This is not a good reason to compile a short story collection. Are your stories good? Do they complement each other in some way? Do they reflect the very best of your writing? Then by all means, go to it. But be aware: selling a short story collection is very difficult. Editors like novels. Some presses only publish novels. This doesn’t meant that you won’t be able to sell your collection but do not think that this will be an easy task. As a short story writer, you already have an uphill battle to fight. If you’re working on a novel, or have a fantastic idea for a novel, it might be better to just do that instead. If, like me, you are deep-in-your-soul a short story writer, then I am sorry for you and glad for you. Just be prepared for a long slog.

DO NOT treat your story collection like a mix tape. Please dear god no stop do not do this. I followed this advice, or tried to follow it, because I heard it over and over again. I think writers repeat it because they want their book to be as cool as an album. Look. Stories are not songs. Trying to figure out how to make your book like a mix tape will drive you crazy (long short long? Two depressing stories and an upbeat one?) and will be, in the end, completely useless to you. If you really, really like the idea of a mix tape, go and make one for your friend or lover or sibling and get it off your chest. Then go back to compiling your book.

DO NOT include every single piece of shit you’ve ever written in your collection. If your story collection is too short without it, then guess what? You don’t have enough material for a collection yet. No filler. Be selective. I even had to cut some of my favorite stories out of my book because they just didn’t fit anywhere, so they eventually had to come out. I’m sure my stubbornness about that cost me a few publishers at least.

DO NOT send a book full of only short shorts to a publisher. Unless that is all you write, of course, and then I cannot help you. I’ve written a lot more flash fiction than I have longer stories, but have you noticed? People who aren’t writers hate flash. Which is most of the people who you want to buy your book. So if you want to fill your collection up with a lot of flash fiction (and mine has a lot) you have to a) balance that shit out with some longer pieces and b) be prepared for readers to ignore all your flash and only love your longer pieces. Sorry, but that’s just the way it is.  Don’t believe me? Talk to your non-writer friends and family and ask them what they think of page-long, two-page-long stories. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

DO NOT misspell the first word of your first sentence of your first story in your collection, and force the poor publisher rejecting you to inform you of this problem. Did this happen to me? Yes, yes it did. And by “happen to me,” I mean, “I was a fucking dumbass who thought I could catch all my own mistakes while writing.” Don’t let this be you. Use Spellcheck for the love of all things holy and good.

DO NOT save the best for last. Save the best for first. Put every single “best” story in the beginning. Frontload that motherfucker and then frontload it some more. Great story, great story, great story, great story – keep them hooked and don’t let them read anything less than your best until at least halfway through. In fact, let all of the stories be your best. Keep pushing the reader in, not letting up, and end on a high note, too. This is another good reason to include only the best stories in your collection. People are distracted and fidgety. Haven’t you heard? We are all A.D.D. now. We are all caught up in the speed of the tubes. Don’t give people a reason to stop reading. Don’t sell that collection until everything in it is the best goddamn thing you’ve even written. And even then, cut the weakest best. Cut more. Write better. Cut more. Write best. Then send it out. Then cross your fingers and toes. Then hope for the best and prepare for the long, slow wreck of the worst.

What about you guys? What have you all learned not to do when compiling a collection of short fiction? How about the poets out there? Non-fiction writers? What rules of the road do you guys try to follow?

Craft Notes / 21 Comments
October 23rd, 2012 / 11:00 am

Every once in a while, a writer steps out of their word cave and takes to social media to behave badly. Emily Giffin, her husband, and her assistant, recently all behaved in inexplicable ways across Facebook and Amazon. It’s really as hilarious as it is sad (h/t Jessa Crispin).

Just FYI

I was sorting my mail and was about to throw this out when the phrase, “You… A Bestselling Author?” caught my eye. The training is free so… act now. If you partake of the training and learn how to get on the New York Times bestseller list, do let us know!


Behind the Scenes / 9 Comments
June 16th, 2012 / 8:49 pm

Someday Everything Will Matter: Shit Fancy Writers Say


 When I read interviews with fancy, famous writers, I am somewhat bewildered. These writers discuss craft and process and influence in near-spiritual terms as if they exist on an alternate plane where they are perpetually able to articulate profundity.  There’s writing and there’s being a writer and the more success you achieve, the more you have to spend your time being a writer—being interviewed, writing op eds and essays, getting your picture taken, coming up with pithy lists of what you are reading or cooking or how you are spending each hour of the day and maybe, just maybe, writing new books. All this business of being a writer must have some purpose. There must be an audience with an insatiable desire for the marginalia and minutiae of famous writers or it might be that this is part of the game—write book, sell book, sell book, sell book.

There is writing and there is being a writer and you can’t have one without the other. Helen Dewitt, author of Lightning Rods, alludes to this in a comment on the Paris Review blog when she notes that, “the industry requires the professional to put writing on hold not just for a day or two, or a week, but for years,” and that after he wrote Freedom, “Franzen then had to do a roadshow to shift copies of the artifact. The fact that his editor saw him as the most important writer of his generation did not mean that his editor thought his time would better be spent (gasp) writing.”

It must be exhausting being a writer, all that blah blah blah. I read interviews with fancy, famous writers and wonder, “Do they ever watch television or are they spending that valuable time thinking up intelligent answers to interview questions?”


Power Quote & Web Hype / 41 Comments
June 15th, 2012 / 12:00 pm

Meanwhile, There Are Things to Read and Know

B.J. Hollars wrote a really moving essay about his friendship with Ray Bradbury.

There’s a new poet laureate and she’s not super old! Her name is Natasha Trethewey.

Here’s an interview with Ben Lerner over at The New Yorker.

If you’ve never been to BEA, Emily Gould went for you and wrote about it. If that doesn’t whet your BEA appetite, there are more accounts of the expo here. Edward Champion’s write up of the African American literary marketplace panel is interesting.

The New York Times has a new ethicist, Chuck Klosterman. Here is his first dilemma.

Uh oh! Some Christians do not approve of Fifty Shades of Grey and one woman stopped reading fiction because God told her to. Don’t worry, though. Dr. Ruth totally endorses Fifty Shades of Grey.

Once more, evidence that it is inadvisable to respond to negative reviews.

As an aside, do you guys understand Pinterest? Everyone is signing up! I have an account. I have pinned one item. I am intrigued by the site but know I will never really use it. How very Web 3.0.

If you love Patricia Highsmith, and you should, the catalog of the  Patricia Highsmith Papers are online.

I am still fascinated by The Rise of the NBA Nerd.


Roundup / 14 Comments
June 11th, 2012 / 6:05 pm

Oprah’s Book Club Two Point Oh

This afternoon, Oprah announced she was reviving her book club as Oprah’s Book Club 2.0. Her first selection is Cheryl Strayed’s Wild. What does this mean for most writers? Absolutely nothing! You can, though, resume your fantasies about being selected for the book club or line up your complaints about what Oprah is doing wrong and that’s pretty exciting.

Regardless, it’s great to see Oprah once again bringing attention to books. Hopefully, this time around, she’ll be more diverse in the titles she picks.

Web Hype / 9 Comments
June 1st, 2012 / 7:32 pm

RIP Maurice Sendak


Maurice Sendak died on Tuesday, May 8, at the age of 83. He scared children because he loved them. He described himself as a scavenger. He will be missed by many.

Massive People / No Comments
May 9th, 2012 / 2:16 pm

{LMC}: An Interview With the Editors of Salt Hill


I love talking to other editors about editing, how they run their magazines, and what they’re thinking about the state of the literary magazine. I had a chance to talk with the editors and designer of Salt Hill to get a sense of the view from Syracuse.

Tell me a little about the history of Salt Hill. Where does the name come from? How long has the magazine been publishing.

Rachel Abelson: The journal has been around for about fifteen years. We are approaching our 30th issue. I’m not sure who is responsible for the name—Michael Paul Thomas was our founding editor—but it’s a reference to the geology of Syracuse. Most of the salt in this country came from Syracuse way back when. There’s a whole museum dedicated to salt here. I believe they reenact the mining of salt pre-1900. I guess Onondaga Lake, besides being wildly polluted, is fed by brine springs. There’s also a lot of snow and a good deal of road salting, too.

Gina Keicher: Salt Hill is run by graduate students in Syracuse University’s Creative Writing Program. It’s a fitting name for a journal based out of the “Salt City.” Also, Syracuse’s campus is situated atop a rather massive hill, so there’s that as well.

What is your editorial process like? How are decisions made? Who has input?

RA: It’s a collaborative process, but there is some autonomy, too, which is key. We often have multiple editors for each genre—poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and art. The goal is for us all to be proud of each section but to avoid editing the life out of something just to ensure we’re unanimous on the matter. Each genre editor is often responsible for a handful of pieces: work they solicited or pulled from slush. These are a genre editor’s babies. And then genre editors work together to build a section around their babies. Editors-in-chief manage separate genres while being responsible for their own pieces as well. Our readers suggest solicitations, too. We’ve worried in the past about over-editing individual pieces. Too many cooks in the track changes. We’re all in MFA mode right now, so we’ve maybe acquired a dangerous instinct to workshop the universe. A degree of editorial autonomy has been our way to respect the stylistic integrity of each piece. If an editor is stoked about a story, she is who will be working with the author on edits and proofing. The logic being: if you like it, you’ll maybe do it justice.

GK: Over the past few years, we’ve also aimed to streamline the process by switching to an online submissions manager, eliminating the paper shuffle. Unsolicited submissions are assigned to readers. If a reader likes a piece she passes it onto the genre editors. If the genre editors are enthusiastic about the piece it goes on to the editors-in-chief. Ultimately, the editors-in-chief make the decisions as to what goes into the journal, taking into account the feedback and comments we receive from readers and genre editors. Throughout our production schedule, editors-in-chief regularly check in with each other, as well as with the genre editors, to determine what may be needed to round out an issue.


Literary Magazine Club / 1 Comment
April 19th, 2012 / 12:30 pm

Things I’ve Been Thinking About (Promotion, Links, Salter, Soap Operas, Etc)

1. Last year, I watched a documentary called I Am Comic which featured comedians talking about the challenges and joys of performing comedy. I love watching stand up so I watch almost anything involving behind the scenes stuff about comedy. It was really interesting to see just how demanding and relentless it is to perform comedy. The kind of drive a comedian needs to succeed is intense. They are relentless in marketing themselves and completely shameless about it and I found that combination inspiring. Writers could benefit from that energy.

I tend to believe writers have to be the most vigorous advocates for themselves. If you won’t fight for your writing, who will? Closed mouths don’t get fed. I love that saying because it is so true. If you want an opportunity, ask for it. A lot of people believe there’s some kind of magical formula for certain writing and award opportunities but most of the time, it is writers who have chosen to advocate for themselves who benefit from these opportunities. Every day, I hear a writer lament about how uncomfortable they are with sharing something as innocuous as a link to their work. Relax. Share the damn link. If you write and submit your work to a magazine and consent to have that work published, you want to be read. Accept that you want to be read. Make peace with yourself. There is no shame in it. There is a difference between self-promotion and being obnoxious. In the time you Tweeted about feeling bad about sharing a link you could totally just share the link.


Roundup / 30 Comments
April 17th, 2012 / 11:40 am

{LMC}: “Foreign Wedding” by Maile Chapman



It’s all these damn faces. They’re all over issue 28 of Salt Hill, and I can’t get them out of my mind. Frederik Heyman’s watercolors and pencils grace both the cover and an inside portfolio—faces in profile, faces looking at the reader, ghostly watercolored faces looking at each other. Then on page one, before the title of the journal or the table of contents or anything else, we’re confronted with the first of Andrew Jilka’s many pencil drawings. The Jilka drawings resonate. They’re layered and repeated, almost like a collage, close-up drawings of faces twisted in ecstasy and reproduced over and over—each time the same face, yet each slightly different. Mouth wide, eyes screwed shut or gaping. The Jilka drawings are meant to be sexual, reverent, and horrifying.

How fitting then to find Maile Chapman’s wondrous short story “Foreign Wedding,” where looking at other people, faces thrust together, examining each other’s movement and motivations, figures so heavily.


Literary Magazine Club / 1 Comment
April 16th, 2012 / 12:30 pm

{LMC}: Salt Hill 28


I admire Salt Hill because of the  strong writing found in each issue and the impeccable production values. I first learned about the magazine at AWP in 2009, when I came across their table and found  two issues, one a hardbound book, and the other, a paperback filled with glossy, color pages. In both instances, the design was gorgeous and clean and showed that the editors valued both form and function. Each issue looks different, not radically so, but enough to get the reader’s attention and in each issue there is always something that stuns me. Salt Hill 28 did not disappoint in this regard. Laura Eve Engel’s, “For You Out of Soft Materials,” is one of those poems I loved starting with the title, all the way through the last line. There is no unnecessary flourish in the language and still each stanza evokes something really interesting. I loved lines like Once I admitted I made my face/for you out of soft materials,/so you’d have a place to put all your fingers and the final stanza, There are all these ways/we can decide not to be very tender. Another standout was the work of H.L. Hix, and “Counterexamples,” with the last line, “You say what we can imagine matters most. I say what we cannot.” “Gown Rain,” by Sarah Rose Etter was as imaginative as I have come to expect from her. The sky is raining gowns, you see, an unstoppable downpour of fabric. The writing is as strong as the premise and the ending is both satisfying and unsettling. The strongest work in a very strong issue was, Maile Chapman’s exceedingly smart “Foreign Wedding.”  There’s a woman, likable in her unlikability, attending a foreign wedding, not connecting to anyone, just out of a marriage, having awkward encounters as she takes in France, and you think with all that you know where the story is going. “Foreign Wedding,” is not going there and the ending is not only unexpected, it is quite chilling. The issue also contains art and an interview with Dana Spiotta, author of Stone Arabia.

Have you read Salt Hill 28? What did you think? What pieces stood out to you? Why? Why is Ben Mirov’s “Destruction Manual” oriented differently? Did some of the art disturb you?

Let’s talk in the comments.


Literary Magazine Club / 3 Comments
April 13th, 2012 / 2:00 pm

“I know you are reading this poem …”

It is June 1993 and I’m halfway through a roadtrip that will kill a friendship. I’ve fled the campground for the beach, trudging through the sandy tunnel under the highway with a notebook and a copy of An Atlas of the Difficult World. Because I can’t imagine spending fifteen dollars to tour Hearst Castle, my roadtrip companion has gone off to do it herself, in a huff. I take my chair, my notebook, my Adrienne Rich volumes and head out to the beach, free for two or three hours to read and write.

The trip is going very badly, and I can’t quite articulate why, even to myself. I am 29 years old, in the summer between a masters and Phd program.  I’ve started a novel, and been admitted to a PhD program where I hope I’ll have time to finish it. I’m terrified of taking on more debt but stopping now means I’ll have to get a “real” job to pay off the MA I’ve just finished, and if I do that I doubt I’ll finish my novel. I’m betting on myself in a way that seems outrageous. I’m broke, but I’ve always been broke, so I’m used to it, but my friend is not, and although I told her before we started that I didn’t have any money, she seems startled by how little money no money actually is.


Massive People / 4 Comments
April 4th, 2012 / 2:14 pm

Chiasmus Press is Looking For a Managing Editor

chiasmus press is slowly unfurling out of hiatus. we have a big idea about our reincarnation and they want you.


want to run a nationally recognized micro indie press. like head honcho big mamma jamma.

want to work with Lidia Yuknavitch.

want to reinvent online, print publication, and cross genre media projects.

big time digital savvy and skills, including web, blog and podcasting.

large experience with alternative press world–all facets.

impeccable literary and media counter culture taste.

crazy good organization skills.

a relentless desire to correct culture.

alternative forms of marketing do not frighten you. in fact, they turn you on.

you have big ideas everyone else thinks are nutso.

it’s likely you drink and enter altered states on occasion.

compensation negotiable. if you know what “micro indie press” means then you have realistic expectations.

it is not mandatory that you live in Portlandia, though it would be helpful. We have heard of Skype and shit before though, so you know, we are down.

if this is YOU, send a 500 word description detailing your experience and desire and why we should pick YOU to: lidiamiles at by April 15.

yes, really.

Presses / 4 Comments
April 1st, 2012 / 3:54 pm

RIP Adrienne Rich

Adrienne Rich, a pioneering feminist poet and essayist who challenged what she considered to be the myths of the American dream, has died. She was 82.

Author News / 6 Comments
March 28th, 2012 / 5:34 pm


I am drowning in books. I  want these books to be read. If you are interested in any of these titles, I will send them to you (one per person). If you write a review of the book, I will publish it on the PANK blog. Some of these have been lightly used but the pages aren’t sticky or anything. If you want a book, claim it in the comments AND e-mail me your mailing address (roxane at and I will get it out to you sometime this week. Seriously, though, email me your address. I can’t track you down.  Enjoy! (These books can only be shipped within the United States unless you want to pay for shipping. Sorry!)


Cream of Kohlrabi by Floyd Skloot

Nothing Can Make Me Do This by David Huddle

The Postmortal by Drew Magary

Umberto Umberto Lamberto Lamberto Lamberto by Gianni Rodari

LA Is the Capital of Kansas by Richard Meltzer

Luminarium by Alex Shakar

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

One of These Things Is Not Like the Other by Stephanie Johnson

Traffic With Macbeth by Larissa Szporluk

Mama’s Homesick Pie by Donia Bijan

The Best Of (What’s Left of Heaven) by Mairéad Byrne

She’d Waited Millennia by Lizzie Hutton

A Man of Glass & All The Ways We Have Failed by JA Tyler

The Hieroglyphics by Michael Stewart

The Nostalgia Echo by Mickey Hess

The Harbor by Ernest Poole

The Girl With the Crooked Nose by Ted Botha

Love and Shame and Love by Peter Orner

Running the Rift by Naomi Benaron

The Buenos Aires Quintet by Manuel Vazquez Montalban

Pocket Kings by Ted Heller

Dead Man Upright by Derek Raymond

The Coldest Night by Robert Olmstead

Until the Next Time by Kevin Fox

Dogma by Lars Iyer (2)

Radio Iris by Anne Marie Kinney

Red Weather by Pauls Toutonghi

Livability by Jon Raymond

Walking With the Comrades by Arundhati Roy

God’s Hotel by Victoria Sweet

Hurricane Story by Jennifer Shaw

The Watery Part of the World by Michael Parker

A Very Minor Prophet by James Bernard Frost

Random / 72 Comments
March 25th, 2012 / 2:32 pm

Goodbye to All That

When I was a kid, my mother assigned homework to my brothers and I in addition to any homework we may have been assigned in school. My mother’s homework was generally more of a priority. Some of her assignments came from Little Professor workbooks but most of her assignments came from the Encyclopedia Britannica, which she made us read, a lot. I have, in my lifetime, read the entire compendium. I know things.

My mother would give us a page range and we’d read and write little reports on what we learned. Other times we had to do assignments that reflected critical thinking—comparing and contrasting different topics, creating new entries or using existing entries as the starting point for a story or article of some kind. At times, I did not understand why we were being forced to read that stupid thing, but I know now—my mother wanted, in her way, for us to understand that knowledge is important, that knowledge is a tool for better thinking.


Random / 33 Comments
March 14th, 2012 / 1:00 am

Do As Franzen Does. Do What You Like

In some ways, we’ve brought this on ourselves; it is a slippery slope. First you wonder what Angelina Jolie had for breakfast because she was so great in that one movie or whatever and then you’re buying cereal and thinking, “Does Oprah eat Raisin Bran?” Eventually, you even start to give a damn about what famous writers think about the weather or, say, social networking, and someone like Jonathan Franzen revels in his dislike of Twitter and other means of social networking from his Important Writer perch and we respond because if Franzen hates Twitter does he hate us too? The angst is unbearable and yet it’s all sort of inevitable.

Franzen’s A Great American Writer and all but I don’t give a much of a damn about his opinions on anything (see: Edith Wharton obvi). Or I do. Is it really surprising that Franzen doesn’t care for Facebook or Twitter? His overall comportment does not suggest an affinity for the levity of social networking. I can’t really say I love Facebook, myself. It has become increasingly hard to make sense of the interface and I keep getting invited to parties and readings in Bali and Temecula and I don’t live in those places so the experience is, at best, fragmented. At the same time, I don’t need to proselytize my dislike unless I’m on Twitter. Who cares? My opinion doesn’t matter nor does Franzen’s, though he is Very Fancy so in the calculus of mattering, his irrelevant opinion is less irrelevant than mine. Math.

J. Franz talking smack about Twitter, though, thems fighting words.


Random & Web Hype / 67 Comments
March 6th, 2012 / 3:13 pm

Monday Readings And Notes

Barney Rosset has died. He was 89. Alas, Dimitri Nabokov has also passed away.

At The Rumpus, Kathleen Alcott wrote a beautiful essay about the importance of her name, the writer who is using the name Kate Alcott as a pseudonym, and much more. Also at The Rumpus, an essay by Catherine Chung whose Forgotten Country will be released in March.

Quick Fiction is ceasing operations and they will surely be missed. Don’t fret, though. They are having a closeout sale.

Dinty Moore responds to the Lifespan of a Fact situation.

As an aside, the Oscars were tragically bad weren’t they? The boringness of the ceremony has left me completely unsettled today. Also, Billy Crystal in blackface. Here’s something on what it’s like to have your book turned into a movie.

Does Jonathan Franzen have a “female problem“? I’m not sure but he best back up off my girl Edith. We KNOW how I feel about Edith. More on this soon but in the interim, Victoria Patterson at the Los Angeles Review of Books, has written a brief essay, “Not Pretty,” in response to Franzen’s New Yorker essay. This kind of reminds me of a post I saw on Bulk Culture a couple weeks where Barry Graham (I think) said looks don’t really matter in terms of online publishing success.

An illustrated guide to Mad Men Bed Hopping.

Roundup / 6 Comments
February 27th, 2012 / 2:40 pm