Roxane Gay is calling out one of America's most prestiguous writers' workshops for discriminating against another writer, Sarah Hollowell, and denying her a public role based on her body. The acclaimed feminist essayist and TED speaker, who has been on the faculty of the Midwest Writers Workshop, claimed on Twitter that workshop organizers made fatphobic comments when voting on whether or not Hollowell, who has worked for MWW for five years, should be appointed to the organizational committee.
Hollowell, who identifies as a "fat writer girl" on her website and is known for her TEDxTalk "Fat Revolution," was not voted in.
Gay spoke about fatphobia as a feminist issue before; her new memoir Hunger argues that fat people deserve dignity in our culture. "I find press around this book generally to be very challenging, because people just don't know how to talk about fat," Gay told Vogue, "and everyone's tiptoeing, or asking awkward questions."
After Gay disowned the workshop, Hollowell herself responded to the events saying, "I have been hurt in a very real way and I don't think it should be hidden." MWW has since issued an apology written by the workshop's director, Jama Kehoe Bigger, who admits that members made comments against Hollowell because of her size, writing "we screwed up." It reads:
Last fall, during a meeting with my executive planning committee, we discussed inviting new members to the committee. During that conversation, a committee member made an insensitive comment about Sarah. One I knew was flawed, but did not believe was an accurate representation of her true feelings about Sarah or this committee member's longstanding commitment to inclusivity and diversity at our workshop.
In that moment, I accepted the apology she made. I also chose to move the group by casting an informal vote inviting Sarah to join our committee. The unanimous answer from everyone, including this chagrined committee member, was yes.
Bigger goes on to explain that she did not formalize that unanimous vote which led to Hollowell losing her place on the committee. The member who made the fatphobic comment has been fired and the group is proposing "new scholarships for diverse voices" and hiring a consultant to "establish guidelines for welcoming and voting on committee members."
Bigger finishes by asserting that the workshop's mission is to welcome everyone "regardless of their weight or appearance, gender or sexual preference, age, race, or whether they show up in the same model of wheelchair in which I sit."
Gay has responded to the apology on Twitter but not stated if she will allow the workship to use her name or likeness in promotional materials.