Roxane Gay on Difficult Women

The bestselling author (and Purdue prof) releases a new collection of short stories this month.
You’re one of Indiana’s most versatile writers—able to toggle from a New York Times column on Black Lives Matter to a hilarious review of Magic Mike XXL. When you sit down to write, how do you know what genre to use?
When I get an idea, I already know which genre it will be in. I don’t have a good way of explaining it, but it often comes down to the type of urgency I’m feeling that dictates whether I write about something through fiction or nonfiction.

Your new collection features an impressive range of characters—a fitness instructor in a gated community, a Johns Hopkins student who strips on the side, a structural engineer who specializes in concrete mixes. How do you come up with this specificity and variety?
I have an active imagination. I love imagining the lives of others and telling stories about them. I also hate how many characters in fiction are writers. I really try to go beyond that with my own.

Is there anything that ties together the various female characters in Difficult Women?  
If there’s a common thread, the characters in the collection are flawed women with damaged hearts, yearning for happy endings.

You joined the Purdue faculty in 2014. How have you liked living in Indiana?
I don’t love living in Lafayette, but I do love teaching and working with my students. And Indianapolis is actually one of my favorite cities. There’s so much to do in Indy. The art museum is world-class, and there are many interesting neighborhoods. I’m especially fond of Fountain Square. There are great restaurants, concerts, shopping, the Indy Reads bookstore, and of course, the best airport in the country, hands down.

In the Acknowledgments of the book, you thank Channing Tatum (“with particular appreciation for his neck”). What character in these stories would he be best to play?
Channing would be the man the narrator is speaking to in “Strange Gods,” her boyfriend and, by the end of the story, her fiancé.