Roxane Gay honed her craft as a Husker
Women's History Month: Groundbreaking Husker alumnae
Editor's Note — In observance of Women's History Month, Nebraska Today is honoring Husker alumnae in March. Every Tuesday and Thursday, we'll publish a feature story about Nebraska graduates making their mark on the world.
Roxane Gay has been very busy.
“I am a bit of a workaholic,” Gay said. “I need to get some hobbies.”
She’s nearly constantly on the move, speaking at sold-out engagements across the country. Gay was able to make a trip back to her alma mater in October 2018, when she was chosen as the inaugural author and speaker for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Reads program.
And while she does play competitive Scrabble, Gay is perhaps most well-known for her searing, unfiltered voice. The writer, editor and commentator recently became the first black woman to write for Marvel as the scribe of "World of Wakanda." She also has authored five books including “Bad Feminist,” “Difficult Women,” and “Hunger,” which chronicles Gay’s relationship with her body.
“I got the idea because I immediately knew that the thing I wanted to write about the least was fatness,” she said. “So that was, probably, the thing I needed to write about the most.”
“The response has been really positive,” she said. “I’ve been surprised by just how many people have been able to relate to the themes I cover in ‘Hunger,’ even if their lives look very different from mine.”
Although it took “a long time” to get started on “Hunger,” Gay wrote the book in about five months.
“Just making myself so vulnerable and remaining committed to honesty were very challenging,” she said. “It is uncomfortable to put something so intimate and personal into the world. But I did what I always do, which is pretend no one is going to read my work so I can say whatever I want.”
Before the bestsellers and the legions of Twitter followers, Gay was a student at Nebraska who frequented the Mary Riepma Ross Media Arts Center.
“It was awesome to finally have access to independent films,” she said.
Gay also honed her craft at the Prairie Schooner.
“I loved working on Prairie Schooner,” she said. “I learned so much about writing, reading and editing from my time there. That magazine is a national treasure, and it deserves all the recognition in the world.”
One class, in particular, resonated with Gay, who studied English and creative writing.
“I took a great class on Victorian literature,” she said. “We read a lot of Oscar Wilde, who quickly became one of my favorite writers. To this day, that class remains one of the most useful courses I’ve ever taken.”
After earning both her bachelor's and master's degrees at Nebraska, Gay went on to Michigan Technological University, where she earned a doctoral degree in rhetoric and technical communication. For now, she will continue her workaholic tendencies: She has several books forthcoming, is developing various television and film projects, and will continue penning an advice column for the New York Times.
“For me, success has been as small as getting a story accepted at an online magazine early in my career and as big as winning a prestigious award and selling a lot of books,” she said. “Success is about putting good work into the world and having that work seen and respected. Success is also about having grown enough to love the people in my life well and to be well-loved in return.”
Back on campus, senior Tina Le is pursuing her passion for English and education. Inspired by a teacher who was also a Nebraska graduate, Le is determined to impact middle and high school students.
Along with coursework, Le is preparing for her career by serving as a slam poetry coach at Waverly and Northstar high schools. She also works at The Bay, a local coffee shop, music venue and skate park that offers a safe space for at-risk youth. Le has worked to start an open mic night at The Bay, allowing youth the chance to share their creative works. She also is excited about helping kids pursue their passions and learn new skills in The Bay’s digital art space.