We are excited to present a new interview series, PAY IT FORWARD, in partnership with the Lily. The Lily, published by The Washington Post, elevates issues critical to women by fostering important conversations and empowering stories. We spoke with women who we collectively admire to hear what mentorship means to them, the advice that has been most meaningful, and the importance of uplifting the women around you.
Next in our series is Roxane Gay: professor, editor, and The New York Times best-selling author of Bad Feminist and Hunger. We spoke with Roxane about informal mentorships, lifting up women writers and how she handles critiques of her work. Check back next week for our next interview in this series or read our previous interview with Deb Liu.
Do you have a female mentor or leader you respect? Who is she?
Novelist Tayari Jones has long been a mentor to me. I love her professionalism as a writer and how willing she is to nurture up and coming black writers and promote black writers in general, whenever she can. She has given me excellent advice on navigating the world of publishing, the tenure track, and so much more. And she is an incredible, elegant and intelligent writer so she also leads through the example of her work.
What qualities make a good mentor or leader?
A good mentor or leader is someone who is confident in what they know, willing to recognize talent in those they work with, and able to give criticism constructively.
Mentors come in all different forms, and are not always people who we expect. What is your experience with this?
This has absolutely been the case. Mentoring comes in such unexpected places and forms. There are formal and informal mentoring relationships and sometimes, a mentoring experience lasts no longer than a moment, but remains significant in someone’s life.
What is something a woman mentor or leader did for you, that you now try and do for other women?
I try to support other women writers as much as possible by promoting their work, blurbing their books, offering advice when asked.
How did that experience (of what your mentor did for you) change your career/life?
Having a great mentor earlier in my writing career really helped me to make good decisions that would ensure I could have a career and not be a one-hit wonder.
What’s one piece of advice that you struggle to put into practice (even though you know you should)?
I struggle not to take things personally when my work is critiqued. But as I get older, I get better about taking it personally and then getting over it and hearing what’s really being said.
Where and when do you do your best work?
I do my best work when I am writing at home, late at night. I also do some of my best work at events, when I am on stage and focused on the audience.
Have you had a recent “Aha!” moment or breakthrough?
None comes to mind.
What is once piece of advice that someone can put into action today?
Take yourself and your ambitions seriously.
What is one thing you want women to keep in mind as they go through life?
I want women to know that they can speak firmly and confidently about what they want and need. They do not have to apologize or be demure or equivocate to be heard.