For anyone who has ever come in contact with the warmth she has put into the world, the news that Maya Angelou had passed seemed to leave a gaping void in the world she helped create in the arts, literature, and human compassion. Even in the wide path left behind for black and female writers, it seems that the removal of something so structural as the presence of Angelou from the still growing emergence of diversity in writers might leave the rest of us grasping at the shadow of the figure that led the way for so many generations of new artists.
But that might be Angelou’s last gift to literature. In her absence there is a space that needs badly to be filled and expanded. In her 86 years of changing the face and perception of women and black culture in literature and the arts, Angelou left us in a confused time in which female writers and writers of color have more room than ever, and yet still have to deal with the surprisingly unsurprising news that the likes of David Gilmour, the college professor/novelist famous for explaining his all-male reading curriculum by stating that he’s “not interested in teaching books by women,” still exist.
As so many young writers come to know, the unavoidable and seemingly ubiquitous resistance to the changes going on in the writing world can be discouraging and sometimes can’t even be fixed by any amount of aggressively clicked retweets of Bold Faced, All Caps, misattributed quote about inequality or feminism. There are darker days, when it’s hard not to feel overwhelmed by the amount of retro-style sexism and bigotry that seems to flood the internet and media, but for those days we must band together and remember—we can make fun of them. Here are two of the best, funny female writers who have taken hold in the wake of Angelou’s strides and who deal with the ridiculousness of being part of the generations raised on the hope of Maya Angelou and still struggling to make it happen.
Patricia Lockwood, poet and author of Balloon Pop Outlaw Black and Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals, has been known to roll onto stage before a reading to break the ice. She didn’t do this when I saw her read live at the writer’s festival she attended at my university, but she did speak to us about her experiences as a first time clubber. For those of us left wanting poetry that simultaneously laughs at the language of over-sexualization and objectification, while reading like a mad-libbed porno, Lockwood answers. In her twitterfeed , a composition of short, absurd poetry and thoughts, Lockwood is magical and hilarious in a way that only someone comfortable with the limit of 140 characters and the freedom of having no internet-embarrassment can.
Roxane Gay is most known for her presence as a blogger and commentator on sites Salon and HTMLGIANT, giving a loud voice to issues of race and gender. Her influence in the fiction is wide, as a celebrated author, founder of Tiny Hardcore Press, and co-editor of literary magazine Pank. Gay writes with a freedom of obligation to anyone but herself, saying at her reading for Politics and Prose, “I think writers of color and women writers are often held as spokes people for their countries and they we have to only tell the goods stories as if we have this extra burden of responsibility. So when I write books, I think ‘What would Franzen do?’ And he would write whatever the fuck he wants to write. And so that’s exactly what I did.” Her upcoming essay collection, Bad Feminist, discusses feminism in popular culture and why it’s ok not to be perfect at it. For those not yet familiar with Gay, watch her interview with Erin Gorham, to hear her talk about why she’s a terrible feminist and the steps to being a good one (oil changes, mustaches, and bra-burnings).