The Casual Optimist

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The Rise of Roxane Gay

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At Brooklyn magazineMolly McArdle profiles Roxane Gay, author of An Untamed State, Bad Feminist and, most recently, Difficult Women

“What more could I say that I haven’t already said?” Gay asks in an conversation about publishing and diversity we had via email last year. Though the industry-wide dialogue has in many ways gotten stuck (as a lot of things that benefit white people do)—mired by a lack of willingness to do the work, commit the resources—Gay’s own efforts changed the terms of the discussion.

“She’s given us a wonderful model,” Saeed Jones says over the phone. “She could just be a great writer, that would be more than enough, but she’s gone beyond that,” he explains. “She’s showing us how to navigate difficult online spaces. She’s editing and championing people.”

He knows from experience. In 2012 Gay edited Jones’s essay “How Men Fight for Their Lives” for The Rumpus, which became the germ (and the title) for the memoir he’s now working on. “When people read that essay and feel surprised or moved by the candor or the vulnerability, it’s because Roxane made me feel safe,” Jones explains. She went on to invite him to contribute to a special issue of Guernicaa piece that became part of his award-winning debut collection of poetry, Prelude to Bruise. They’ve since shared the stage several times, most recently in front of a sold out audience at the 92nd Street Y this February. “Roxane is the kind of editor who says, ‘You are doing something important. Keep doing it.’ For writers particularly interested in examining gender, the body, power, race, identity—that is an essential and all too rare experience. There are not too many people out there you can trust. With Roxane,” he says, “people feel like themselves.”

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