Interview with 2014 Fiction Prize Judge: Roxane Gay

Submissions to our 2014 Fiction Prize are open from September 1 to October 31. Our judge is the fabulously talented Roxane Gay. Here, Gay answers questions asked her about her favorite short stories, the critical importance of the title, which “writing rule” she’s wary of, and what she’d be up to in Ina Garten’s kitchen.

IR: What are some of your favorite short stories, and what do you admire about them?

RG: My favorite short stories include “The Mill Pond” and “She Who Subjected the Sun” by xTx, “Rape Fantasies” by Margaret Atwood, “Betty and Veronica” by Luke Geddes, “At Least We’ve Legs” by Jim Shepard, “Bitches” by Rion Amilcar Scott, “Virgins” by Danielle Evans, “Building Girls” by Randa Jarrar, and on the list goes. I love that these stories use language and evoke emotion so carefully. I am made to think and feel in every one and that’s what I always gravitate toward when I read.


IR: If a submitter managed to get a tiny baby elephant to you, would that help their chances in the Fiction Prize contest?

RG: Absolutely. Tiny baby elephant based bribery is warmly encouraged.


IR: You’re not afraid of difficult subject matter, as evidenced in your recent novel An Untamed State and what you confront head-on in Bad Feminist. Do you think there are lines that should not be crossed in writing?

RG: No, I don’t think there are lines that should not be crossed, but I do think writers need to think and write carefully when crossing fraught lines.


IR: What writing “rule” would you say you break most often?

RG: “Show don’t tell.” I love me some exposition.


IR: You’re great at creating titles for your work. You published a piece in IR a couple years ago called “(How to Write) A Love Story, ” which certainly caught my attention, as did the title of your latest essay collection, Bad Feminist. How important is a title to a piece? What are some common titling missteps about which you might like to warn potential submitters before their work comes across your desk?

RG: Titles are incredibly important. They are how you welcome a reader into your story. They create a sense of anticipation. All too often writers create titles that are too obscure or too literal. They over think the title. I always love a title that feels organic to the writing that follows.


IR: In an interview with Tina Essmaker, you suggest writers should “read a lot, and read diversely.” What are you currently reading? What’s on your to-read list?

RG: I am currently reading Geek Sublime, On Immunity, and How to Build a Better Girl.


IR: You’re in Ina’s kitchen, with Ina. Jeffrey’s away, as he tends to be. It’s autumn, and the set is festive—lots of leaves and cornucopias. What are you cooking and who is it for?

RG: I am probably making popovers, herbed mashed potatoes, roasted brussel sprouts and a leafy green salad with vinaigrette. I am cooking for my girlfriend.


IR: Any other advice for potential contest entrants?

RG: I don’t particularly want to read stories about writers, poets, college students or college professors.