When my college roommate learns I am Haitian, she is convinced I practice voodoo, thanks to the Internet in the hands of the feeble-minded.” So opens the short story “Voodoo Child” in Roxane Gay’s recently re-released short story collection, Ayiti (the title is the creole word for Haiti). The people in these stories are tired of the assumptions, tired of everyone getting their stories wrong. The news cycle doesn’t help.
The stories create conversations that travel back and forth between Haiti and America to challenge the overpowering news narratives that undermine the beauty, desire, and resilience of the Haitian diaspora. The stories vary in length, and in each Roxane Gay illustrates how expansive the short story form can be. While some stories cinch an idea into two pages, another develops over 45 pages. The structures for her stories are novel and purposeful. “There is no E in Zombi, Which Means There Can Be No You or We,” for example, opens with a “[Primer]” told in verse: “[Things Americans do not know about zombis:]/They are not dead. They are near death./There’s a difference.” “Gracias, Nicaragua y Lo Sentimos” is a two-page short story written in Spanish and English in allegiance to the experience of being reduced to your country’s political and economic strife.
A glance at Roxane Gay’s work since Ayiti was originally published in 2011 illustrates the point we already knew — Roxane Gay is as prolific as she is purposeful. Since 2011, Gay has published a novel An Untamed State, the New York Times bestselling essay collection Bad Feminist, her second short story collection Difficult Women and her memoir, the New York Times bestselling Hunger. She also writes the World of Wakanda comic book series with poet Yona Harvey for Marvel, and is a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times. And she’s at work on television and film projects.