Roxane Gay’s widely acclaimed 2017 memoir Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body has gone from the book she dreaded writing, to the basis of a new pop-up magazine with Medium that aims to be an impactful exploration on what it means to have an unruly body.
In Hunger, Gay chronicled the lasting emotional and physical fallout she endured after being sexually assaulted at age 12. She also touched on the idea of having an “unruly body,” a body that doesn’t fit the mold of what society deems acceptable. So when Medium approached her last year with the complete editorial freedom to execute a project, Gay chose to expand on that conversation with Unruly Bodies, a collection of essays from 25 different writers that will roll out through April.
“Writing Hunger showed me that I can get vulnerable and still produce work with intellectual merit and that I can also respect my own boundaries. I don’t have to give the reader everything to tell them a story that I feel is important to tell,” Gay says. “And so I definitely want to take what I’ve learned from writing Hunger forward. That’s why I enjoyed doing Unruly Bodies because it gave me something to do with all of this energy I felt like I generated for myself creatively after writing Hunger.”
As the parenthetical “My” in Hunger‘s subtitle suggests, Gay’s relationship to her body is hers alone. Through Unruly Bodies, Gay is broadening the discussion with an inclusive pool of writers that includes men and transgender people.
“Everyone lives in a body and everyone has a different experience of that,” Gay says. “It’s not universal, but I try to give as many perspectives as I could.”
Even though every body tells a story of its own, some bodies and the experiences that comprise them are more visible targets for unwarranted ridicule, particularly online. That said, Gay says Unruly Bodies isn’t about creating a safe place, per se.
“I don’t think safe spaces exist, and I don’t think that’s the goal. I don’t think people should be traumatized by going online, but there’s just no safe place,” Gay says. “The internet is not a bad place–people do bad things. When you write about bodies in vulnerable ways, it does give assholes the opportunity to attack. But my writers are all adults and I trust them to have support systems in place. And they also have me and the entire editorial staff at Medium who has their backs.”
Above all, Gay says Unruly Bodies has been exciting both creatively and personally. “I love the work that the writers produced for this project, and so just being able to share it with a broader audience and to see these writers get some sunshine is really exciting to me,” she says. “I’m really grateful to Medium for providing this opportunity and also providing me with the opportunity to compensate writers well, because writing is work and it should be paid.”
Read Unruly Bodies here.