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Roxane Gay's 'Hunger' is a story of size, shape and the effects of sexual violence

Jun 15, 2017

There are a lot of labels that fit Roxane Gay very well. She’s a writer. Her book "Bad Feminist" made her a bestseller. She’s also a professor, a daughter of Haitian immigrants and a former resident of Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

But other labels – even if they’re accurate – make Gay more uncomfortable, labels like brave and survivor. Gay’s new book is called “Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body.” It is a story of size and shape and the lasting effects of sexual violence.

Roxane Gay will give a reading at Hill Auditorium in Ann Arbor on June 16. She spoke with Michigan Radio's "Morning Edition" host Doug Tribou about the book.

Roxane Gay's new book is a memoir about her relationship with food, struggles with her weight, and the act of sexual violence that still affects her today.
Credit Harper

In "Hunger," Gay writes that when she was 12 years old, a boy who was her friend and boyfriend, took her to an abandoned cabin in the woods. Several of his friends were there. The boy and his friends gang raped Gay and she kept that crime a secret from her parents – and everyone – for years.

"When something like that happens and you’re a naive 12-year-old, it kind of completely upends your world order," she said.

After the rape, Gay says she turned to food "because I wanted to make myself bigger. I wanted to feel stronger and safer. At 12 years old, of course, [I] thought, 'Well, if I make myself bigger boys, won't be interested in me and they won't hurt me again.'"

In our interview with Gay, she also discusses how strangers constantly comment on her size – she's 6-foot-3 and at one time weighed as much as 577 pounds – and the items in her grocery cart.  She also talks about the years she spent in the U.P. as a doctoral student at Michigan Tech University.