Writing About Trauma

Roxane Gay

Lesson time 13:33 min

Learn how to write about trauma with care and courage. Roxane offers excerpts from her book Hunger and the short story “La Negra Blanca” from Difficult Women as examples.

Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars

Topics include: Know Your Boundaries · Hunger · Fiction as a Vehicle · “La Negra Blanca” (From Difficult Women)


[MUSIC PLAYING] ROXANE GAY: Writing about trauma can be really difficult because you are having to excavate old wounds. And you're in danger, if you're not careful, of re-traumatizing yourself. So one of the most important things when writing about trauma is to remember that you need to be in a good place emotionally to write about it. You need to have the emotional distance to be able to write about it. And, ideally, you need support, not only from a therapist, but from loved ones who can provide the solace that you need when the writing becomes incredibly intense or difficult. So many people have experienced trauma and are looking for stories that reflect their own, for stories that reveal something about trauma that might help them. And also, I think we have a responsibility because people tend to underestimate the effects of trauma. And so when we write about it openly and when we write about post-traumatic stress disorder and the other after effects of trauma, we open up our lives and make ourselves, I think, more legible to the people in our lives who may not understand why we are the way we are. If you want to write about trauma, I think it's important to remember that writing about trauma is a responsibility and that you should do so honestly and ethically. You should think about audience and make sure that you're not writing so explicitly that you traumatize them, but so vaguely that they have no clear sense of what you're writing about. I firmly believe that we should write it in ways that are almost unpalatable, that force us to look away or to read it in spurts instead of all the way through. It should be so horrifying that we cannot read it front to back, beginning to end. And that's, you know, my opinion. And I also believe in writing it explicitly. But I also know that there are many valid arguments, some of which I have used to write around trauma. It's up to the writer. And you'll know what's the best choice for you. But when you write about trauma explicitly and directly, I think it helps for people to understand the extent of the damage that you've experienced and the extent of the hurt you've experienced in ways that they may not get otherwise. I want readers to have a visceral experience without traumatizing them. It's not that I want them to suffer. It's that I want them to understand. And sometimes, I think writing directly into a subject will get that understanding. One of the most important things to remember when writing trauma is that nuance is incredibly important. No one is entirely one thing. No one is entirely heroic. No one is entirely evil. There are always going to be complexities to the experience of being a victim or survivor. And you may not have the generosity of spirit, nor do you need the generosity of spirit, to also say, oh, he's a good guy. Or she's a good girl, or a good woman. But you want to bring texture to your writing by making sure that you don't all frame yourself o...

About the Instructor

Bestselling author, professor, and New York Times columnist Roxane Gay has connected to readers around the world with her unyielding truth-telling and highly personal feminism. In her MasterClass, she teaches you how to own your identity, hone your voice, write about trauma with care and courage, and navigate the publishing industry. Learn how to document and narrate the world as you see it—and then demand change.

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Roxane Gay

Bestselling author and cultural critic Roxane Gay teaches writing for social change and arms you with the skills needed to make an impact.

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