The modern writer: Roxane Gay
Roxane Gay shares how publishing on Substack fits into the broader constellation of her writing life
This week, we interviewed writer and cultural critic Roxane Gay, who has built a potent community on The Audacity by hosting essays from emerging writers.
Roxane spoke about engaging with readers, her own online writing process, and being part of the Substack network. This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
In many ways, writing a newsletter is like blogging, which is why I enjoy doing it. It reminds me of the days of Google Reader and all of the many blogs I would read back then, and the convenience of being able to communicate with an audience but feel like there’s some intimacy there.
A sense of community
Anyone who’s going to take time out of their day to read my work in their inbox, or really anywhere—there is an absolute connection there. But I try not to think too much about audience when I’m writing. What I like about Substack is that it does allow people to respond and share their thoughts. And there is often a sense of community in the comments section that I appreciate. I also like that it feels like a slightly more intimate scale than, for example, publishing in the New York Times or some other major publication. There’s a smaller sense of scale and more safety and more community that I’m publishing into than the sort of vast trolling depths of the internet. That part, I think, is wonderful.
I tend to find my newsletter a great place to sort of experiment and try out new ideas and take the kinds of risks that I will later take in more formal writing. So it’s an interesting place for experimentation, and I enjoy using it in that regard.
There’s a smaller sense of scale and more safety and more community that I’m publishing into than the sort of vast trolling depths of the internet. That part, I think, is wonderful.
Every day is different
I don’t have a consistent schedule of any kind for anything. Every day is different.
So I never know when I’m going to work on my newsletter; it just depends. The one consistent thing I do on my newsletter is every other Wednesday I publish an essay from an emerging writer, and in doing so I get to present some interesting writing to readers, and I love being able to do that. I publish a graphic essay from a great artist named Aubrey Hirsch, and every weekend I publish a link roundup, and then as the mood takes me, I will put in longer essays during the week, generally on Tuesdays or so, but there’s no real consistency to it.
Read more: Stranger Things, by Aubrey Hirsch and The Audacious Round Up, by Roxane Gay
For my essay, sometimes it’s an idea that I’ve been mulling over. Sometimes it might be a piece of cultural criticism because I’ve seen a play or looked at some art or a movie or song or an album. Then I try and read as extensively as I can and figure out, clearly people are talking about this thing, but what is an aspect of whatever the issue is that I’m writing about that no one else is saying, or that few people are saying, because that’s where I feel like I can probably make a useful contribution.
And then I just write.
My Substack is a space for experimentation
It’s my space for online writing. It’s a way for me to communicate with my audiences. It’s definitely a place for experimentation, so that’s where it fits within the overall ecosystem of my work.
I don’t subscribe to people I disagree with. Not because I want to live in an echo chamber, but because I’m not going to give them my money. And also, I just don’t think that they’re interesting or smart. I definitely think that there are some people on Substack who should not be on Substack and who should not be allowed to share truly toxic and dangerous perspectives.
Anyone I’m subscribed to shifts my thinking in one way or another. Carmen Maria Machado, who’s an incredible writer, recently started a Substack, and I was just so thrilled to see that. I think that she does a lot of interesting work. Alicia Kennedy is a vegan food writer and chef and has vastly different perspectives than me on many things. She has, I think, one of the smartest and most consistently excellent newsletters out there, and I appreciate that. Brandon Taylor, with his newsletter sweater weather, is outstanding. He’s so smart. He’s incredibly provocative. I appreciate reading what he has to say.
Subscribe to Roxane Gay’s newsletter, The Audacity, on Substack, and follow her on Twitter here.
The modern writer: Roxane Gay