Sunday, May 19, 2013

Ayana Mathis

Ayana Mathis's debut novel is The Twelve Tribes of Hattie. From Mathis's Q & A with Jonathan Lee for Guernica:
Guernica: I don’t think it’s a secret that you’re gay, but I haven’t seen you labelled as a gay writer. Why is that, I wonder? People might say it’s because your novel is about race, and therefore the fact you’re a writer of color comes up. But actually it’s a book about sexuality, too. You paint a great portrait of Floyd, a character, creative in temperament, who is struggling in some ways with his sexuality.

Ayana Mathis: It’s difficult. I’m wary of being put in boxes. But at the same time, it’s important that I embrace my identity as a writer who happens to be gay, and in my own way I do that. In America, and no doubt elsewhere, we have such a tendency toward the segregation of cultural products. This is a black book, this is a gay book, this is an Asian book. It can be counterproductive both to the literary enterprise and to people’s reading, because it can set up barriers. Readers may think, “Oh, I’m a straight man from Atlanta and I’m white, so I won’t enjoy that book because it’s by a gay black woman in Brooklyn.” They’re encouraged to think that, in a way, because of the categorization in the media.

As for Floyd, he’s certainly a very important character in the book. I couldn’t imagine a book with this many characters in it and one of them not being gay. It would have felt like a glaring and problematic omission for me. But I also wanted to write him as a person, not just a gay person. I found his chapter one of the most difficult to write because I seemed to be tempted to write some kind of coming out story. Many people have done that far better than I ever could, and I found I was relying on reductive tropes—what I was producing was boring, predictable. I had to think about the fact that first and foremost Floyd was a guy, a guy away from home for the first time. I had to resist the temptation to...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue