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The PEN Ten with Roxane Gay

The PEN Ten is PEN America's biweekly interview series curated by Lauren Cerand. This week, Lauren talks to Roxane Gay, who lives and writes in the Midwest. She is the author of two forthcoming booksAn Untamed State and Bad Feminist.

When did being a writer begin to inform your sense of identity?

I don't know that there is a specific moment when being a writer began to inform my sense of identity because writing has always been such an integral part of my identity. Writing isn't my whole life but it is certainly one of the things that makes me happiest and best defines who I am.

Whose work would you like to steal without attribution or consequences?

Edith Wharton

Where is your favorite place to write?

On my couch, with Law & Order SVU on in the background.

Have you ever been arrested? Care to discuss?

I haven't. I follow the law because the idea of using a jail or prison bathroom is far too much for me to handle.

Obsessions are influences—what are yours?

I'm obsessed with the ways people are terribly human together.

What’s the most daring thing you’ve ever put into words?

The most daring thing I've put into words would probably be my essay "What We Hunger For," where I talk about something from my past I don't often bring into my nonfiction.

What is the responsibility of the writer?

That is a difficult question. The responsibility of the writer is to write true, even when they're telling lies.

While the notion of the public intellectual has fallen out of fashion, do you believe writers have a collective purpose?

I'd suggest that the public intellectual is very much in fashion. They simply work differently than in previous eras. Do writers have a collective purpose? I'm not sure, but what we do is write the world as we see it. We witness and record and remember and when we're at our best, we instigate change, even if in small ways.

What message would you send to an imprisoned writer?

"They cannot take your words from you."

What book would you send to the leader of his or her government?

The Autobiography of Malcolm X