Roxane Gay has published five books in the last seven years, all acclaimed, all incisively addressing social issues that define our society, such as feminism, race, body image, racial and sexual violence, and the immigrant experience. Three – her essay collection Bad Feminist, her short story collection Difficult Women, and her memoir Hunger – were US national bestsellers.
She’s also a regular contributor to the New York Times, associate professor of English at Purdue University, and recently co-authored the Black Panther spinoff World of Wakanda for Marvel Comics. Her writing appears in dozens of publications. We asked her how she maintains such an intense and prolific career.
Location: Lafayette, IN and Los Angeles, CA
Current Gig: Associate Professor at Purdue, writer and critic
One word that best describes how you work: Constantly
Current mobile device: iPhone 8 and LiePhone X
Current computer: Macbook Air, Macbook, Macbook Pro, iMac (I use all four equally, either at home in one place or the other, on the road, or at work)
First of all, tell us a little about your background and how you got to where you are today.
I’m a writer and teacher. I got here through a lot of hard work, some luck, hardcore ambition, a capacity to tolerate a lot of rejection blah blah blah blah. I also went to school for a long time.
Take us through a recent workday.
It really depends. On teaching days, I spend my morning preparing for class, printing out any handouts I need, checking my campus mail, holding office hours, grading, and then I teach, generally a three hour seminar, and then I go run errands, and get to writing stuff in the evening. On non-writing days, it depends on whether I am travelling, having an event, or free to actually sit down and get some reading or writing done. I don’t really have a schedule or routine. I do what I can when I can.
What apps, gadgets or tools can’t you live without?
I cannot live without my phone, Gmail, Word, Google Docs and Dropbox.
What’s your workspace setup like?
I have a lot of different workspaces. I do most of my writing from my couch but in each of my homes I also have an office with a desk, printer, space for my laptop or desktop, lots and lots of bookshelves, a shelving system for supplies and such, and a chair. It’s not super interesting.
What’s your best time-saving shortcut or life hack?
I haven’t found one yet.
How do you keep track of what you have to do?
I use a Google spreadsheet with all my outstanding writing work. My calendar is also a critical tool for getting things done.
What everyday thing are you better at than everyone else? What’s your secret?
I am really good at missing deadlines. My secret to this is overcommitting to projects because of a profound inability to say no.
How do you recharge? What do you do when you want to forget about work?
I don’t know. I need to figure this out, ASAP.
What’s your favourite side project?
My favourite side project is a new comic book project I am working on.
What are you currently reading, or what’s something you’d recommend?
Fill in the blank: I’d love to see _________ answer these same questions.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Every time I share this I feel awkward because the advice is so simple and seems trite but it was not offered tritely and I do not offer it here tritely. When I was going on the academic job market, worrying about the campus interview, my friend Matt Seigel told me to just be myself because otherwise, if I got hired as the person I was pretending to be, I would have to keep up that pretense for the rest of my career. He was absolutely right about being myself, for better and worse.
Is there anything else you’d like to add that might be interesting to readers and fans?
I play competitive Scrabble.
We’ve asked heroes, experts and flat-out productive people to share their shortcuts, workspaces and routines. Want to suggest someone we should feature or questions we should ask? [contact text=”Let us know.”]