Who Is Roxane Gay? Get To Know The Feminist Critic Who Just Became One Of Marvel’s First Black Women Writers [SDCC 2016]
At San Diego Comic-Con on Friday, Marvel plans to announce a new series spinning out of Ta-Nehisi Coates and Brian Stelfreeze's Black Panther series, Black Panther: World of Wakanda. An anthology series, the lead story features Ayo and Aneka, two lovers who defected from Wakanda's all-woman security force to form the vigilante Midnight Angels. The story is co-written by Coates and feminist essayist and critic Roxane Gay, with art by Alitha Martinez.
The first issue of World of Wakanda will also feature a 10-page backup story written by poet Yona Harvey, with art by Afua Richardson. Harvey's story stars Zenzi, a female revolutionary who has also been introduced in Coates' Black Panther.
The announcement is notable for a couple of very significant reasons. Barring further announcements, World of Wakanda will be Marvel's only series with unambiguously queer characters in the lead roles. Almost unbelievably, it's also the first ever Marvel title written by black women. The subject of representation is something that matters to Roxane Gay herself, who told the New York Times, “The opportunity to write black women and queer black women into the Marvel universe, there’s no saying no to that.”
But while Gay is well known in the circles of feminist theory, she may be less familiar to comic book fans. So who is Roxane Gay?
Gay is one of the most exciting writers in America today. Like Coates before her, working on a Black Panther title represents her first comics work, but she's done just about everything else: She's best known for her non-fiction, but is also a novelist, poet, editor, and professor.
Gay was born in Nebraska and got her doctorate from Michigan Technological University. Her first book, Ayiti, is a collection of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry about her Haitian heritage and the Haitian diaspora at large. Gay's 2014 novel An Untamed State also deals with Haiti, and tells the story of a Haitian-American woman who is kidnapped on a vacation to Haiti. It's being adapted into a movie by Gay and director Gina Prince-Bythewood, who made Beyond the Lights.
Also in 2014, Gay published an essay collection called Bad Feminist, which has become her most acclaimed book. It contains her writings about pop culture and politics, about race, gender, and of course feminism. But don't misunderstand the title — Roxane Gay is very much a feminist. But as she explains in the introduction to that book, it's always complicated:
I embrace the label of bad feminist because I am human. I am messy. I’m not trying to be an example. I am not trying to be perfect. I am not trying to say I have all the answers. I am not trying to say I’m right. I am just trying — trying to support what I believe in, trying to do some good in this world, trying to make some noise with my writing while also being myself.
Her upcoming book Hunger is a non-fiction memoir about her relationship to food and her body. Just last month, she appeared on This American Life, talking to Ira Glass about her experiences as a fat black woman.
In addition to her career as a writer, Gay is a founding editor of PANK Magazine. She's also essays editor emeritus at The Rumpus, as well as an associate professor of English at Purdue University.
Roxane Gay is one of the most exciting people I can imagine writing for Marvel Comics, especially among writers who have never written a comic before. But it also raises the question of why Marvel feels it has to venture outside the field of comics to find black women to hire as writers. Bringing in Roxane Gay and Yona Harvey will get headlines, and it will hopefully result in great comics. But there are many black women already making comics, and it's a shame that Marvel doesn't currently seem interested in hiring them as well.
But again, I don't mean to take anything away from Roxane Gay, and her potential to write an excellent comic about the Midnight Angels. As a bisexual woman, she brings a perspective to Ayo and Aneka that Ta-Nehisi Coates, as a straight man, does not have. While I'm less familiar with Yona Harvey's work, I look forward to learning more about her, as well as reading her Zenzi story.
Though this all comes shamefully late, it is obviously a step in the right direction that Marvel has finally hired its first black woman writers. But we're still hoping they hire more soon.