New York Times Bestselling author, Roxane Gay, graced Ann Arbor with her presence on Friday, June 16th. Promoting her latest book, Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body, Gay read to a packed house at Hill Auditorium. Hunger is a narrative of what it’s like to be fat in a world that isn’t willing to make room for “unruly” bodies. Through intimate anecdotes, Gay chronicles the choices that led to her current medical diagnosis of super morbid obesity.
Her writing has appeared in Time, McSweeney’s, and The New York Times Book Review. She is currently an associate professor of creative writing at Purdue and is a frequent Op-ed contributor to the New York Times. She earned international acclaim after the publication of her New York Times bestselling essay collection, Bad Feminist.
Gay’s voice is witty, courageous, and admirably impassioned. She began the reading with one of the opening chapters of Hunger in which she says; “Mine is not a success story. Mine is, simply, a true story.” Unlike many novels addressing weight, Gay’s is not a story of victory where a newly slimmed person appears on the cover standing in one leg of their now too large jeans. “This,” she writes, “is not a story of triumph, but this is a story that demands to be told and deserves to be heard.” In her introduction, Gay tells the reader this book is about her journey to embrace and reclaim who she is in a world where being fat comes with certain perceptions and persecution.
Shifting the tone, Gay moved to a story about her deep hatred of exercise. From her dry-humored accounts about her quirky and enthusiastic trainer Tijay, to her quasi-charitable donation to Planet Fitness; she had the audience in stitches and clapping for more. Much of her talent lies in her ability to so delicately juxtapose brokenness with humor. Hunger would be daunting if not for her wit and genuine dialogue.
Throughout the reading, Gay smiled at the crowd. Her joy was palpable and it was one that, as she says, came from writing a “challenging book that I’m proud of.” The audience was very responsive, often making sounds of encouragement. Gay told them, “Facing yourself is hard to do.” However, it’s clear that the audience is glad she found the strength to do so.
The last chapter Gay read was a poignant account of her search for a man whose actions played an integral part in shaping her hunger. It’s a heartbreaking narrative, but one that she tackles with grace and veracity.
Though the novel doesn’t end with her solving her size or hunger, it starts a conversation. Hunger encourages a rethinking of the social constructions surrounding what it means to be fat and what it means to love yourself despite a society telling you to feel dissatisfied.
The event concluded with a question and answer session where she discussed her thoughts on everything from the current season of The Bachelorette, to how fatness and blackness intersect. She responded to each with thought and hilarity. It was a reading deserving the thunderous applause and standing ovation that resulted.
Gay opened the reading by joking that she wrote Hunger because she is a masochist, but it’s clear by the end of the night that she wrote the book because she is strong and because she is so innately aware of what it means to be imperfect. Aware of what it means to be human. A lesson to all college students struggling to find themselves, Gay finishes the book by writing: “The truth makes me uncomfortable too. But…here I am, finally freeing myself to be vulnerable and terribly human. Here I am, reveling in that freedom.”
As Hunger encourages and Gay embodies through her strength, seeking the truth is not rewarding despite, but because of, the pain encountered along the way.