An Interview with Roxane Gay

Mixed FruitWhat’s the first thing that set off the writing process for this piece? Was it a restaurant menu?

Roxane Gay – I was thinking about the seven deadly sins so I started thinking about the contrapasso which is, loosely, the punishment of souls by the sins they have committed. It was a term coined in Dante’s Inferno. Then I went to this steakhouse in San Francisco, while in town for work, Alfred’s, one of those old school chophouses with leather banquettes. The menus were these huge, leatherbound affairs, very elaborate and ostentatious, much like steak itself. I stole the menu and felt guilty about that, though also very happy to have the menu, and then my stomach started hurting and I thought about contrapasso. That’s when I started working on the story.

MFThe term “contrapasso” refers to a kind of divine justice, and the concept is used to great effect in Dante’s Divine Comedy. Of the nine circles in Dante’s Inferno (Limbo, Lust, Gluttony, Wrath, Heresy, Violence, Fraud, Treachery), where do you think you would find yourself? Why?

RG – I would find myself either in Lust or Gluttony because I want, excessively.

MFHow do you approach revision?

RG – I’m working on getting better with revision because it has not historically been much of my writing process. I approach revision, when I do it, by working my way through a story from the beginning to the end, seeing what works and what doesn’t and rewriting as I reread.

MFWhat’s the best book you’ve read in the past year?

RG – Without a doubt, The Chronology of Water by Lidia Yuknavitch for its searing and breathtaking use of language, the power of the writing, the control Yuknavitch wields in telling her story, the honesty and fearlessness, the vulnerability, the way the book moves the memoir genre forward in significant ways and the overall class and beauty that exudes from every page of the book.

MFWhat do you get out of writing, and how is the payoff ever worth the agony?

RG – Writing is my life’s greatest joy. I do not find it agonizing.

MFWhat advice would you give writers just starting out? What advice would you have liked to hear when you were just starting out?

RG – These days, I’d tell newer writers to focus on writing rather than publishing. That’s the advice I would have liked to hear when I was just starting out.

MFIf you were a fruit, what would you be?

RG – I’d be a banana–a fruit possessing a thick rind which, when pulled away, reveals dense flesh soft and sweet on the tongue.