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.

Goodbye To All This

Blake Butler invited me to join the rowdy conversation over here in 2009. I was way older and different than most of the other contributors but they all welcomed me and what I had to say.

I got to start a Literary Magazine Club and we sure tried to make a go of it. I wrote about my homegirl Edith Wharton, sentimental women’s writing, interviewed or reviewed talented writers, gave space other writers write on talented writers,  mused on writing a novel, accepted writing as a political act, considered diversity in the Best American series, and on and on. I have so many opinions and I will forever be grateful that I had this space to share them!

I wrote a lot here. I learned so much about how to argue, being criticized, developing a thicker skin, becoming a stronger writer, being more open minded, standing my ground. I am still a work in progress, but I’ve come so far because of HTMLGIANT. I have been exposed to writers, magazines, and presses I would have never known about and that are now part of my canon. I have met most of my closest friends through this place. Y’all, Mark Cugini, can I just shout him out? Every time I am in D.C. that man is there, the familiar face in the crowd. He, like so many others I have met through here, is tireless and awesome.

HTMLGIANT has its issues and they have been well-documented, particularly when it comes to sexism and racism. But the world is a difficult place. It would be strange to expect that this community, and it is, a community, would somehow rise above the world’s imperfections as a utopia. We are readers and writers and we are, perhaps, idealists. We want to be the best versions of ourselves. Wherever this community goes next, we will be better. I hope we will continue to reach for that better place where we act and think compassionately and intelligently about the differences between us.

I don’t have anything grand to say other than thank you to Blake and Gene for inviting me to share my voice here. Thank you, readers and commenters for supporting and challenging me and giving a damn about reading and writing. Thank you, all.

Web Hype / 6 Comments
October 24th, 2014 / 10:31 am

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 / 23 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 / Comments Off on RIP Maurice Sendak
May 9th, 2012 / 2:16 pm