When it comes to writing, half of the struggle boils down to capturing the right “voice.” Do you sound smart? Approachable? Hilarious?
Samantha Irby is one of those rare writers who has conquered all three categories, gaining an impressive following over the past decade with laugh-out-loud essays that make you think, “this person is really funny and not at all afraid to talk about poop.” When I call her at home in Kalamazoo, MI, I ask Irby, 42, what it’s like to be the kind of author who is so relatable, people would love to call her a friend. “I wish I could be everyone’s friend,” says Irby, “but then they’d realize how bad I am at texting back and they’d be, like, ‘Let’s just keep this relationship on the page.’”
It all started in 2009, when she created her Myspace blog, “Bitches Gotta Eat” (the now-iconic story is that she did it to impress a dude). Her writing snowballed in popularity, leading to her 2013 debut essay collection, Meaty, which introduced readers to a few major facets of Irby’s identity, including her battle with Crohn’s disease and the loss of her parents at 18. But these struggles are secondary to Irby’s most defining characteristic: the fact that she can find humor in almost anything.
In the years since Meaty, Irby published three more books, the most recent of which, Wow, No Thank You, shot to the top of the New York Times bestseller list as soon as it was published in 2020—and there’s every reason to believe her newest book, Quietly Hostile (Vintage Books), will do the same when it’s released on May 16th. But the last few years have seen not just her publishing career level up, but her personal life as well.
Irby married her wife, Kirsten Jennings, in 2016, and they set up a household with Jennings’ two teenage kids and a “lesbian amount of pets,” as Irby puts it, including a dog named Abe and four cats. She also made major career strides as a TV writer/producer, racking up credits on Shrill, Work in Progress, And Just Like That…, and Tuca & Bertie.
Meanwhile, “Bitches Gotta Eat” was upgraded into a Substack newsletter, which she describes as “Judge Mathis recaps + occasional sad garbage.” Through it all, Irby has continued to write about what she knows best—from public bathroom mishaps to delving deep into The Real Housewives universe. “Life is so short,” she says. “I just have to do what I can to make myself feel good. And if I tell people and they think I’m a moron, then fine, I don’t care. I’m not reading the ‘smart’ book.”
As a consummate over-sharer, Irby is a magnet for similar types of revelations from her fans. So, it should come as no surprise that strangers often want to tell her about their diarrhea and other deeply personal trials—and she welcomes it all. “Any time someone is honest about a thing they’re struggling with, I feel something unlock within myself,” says Irby. “Like, ‘OK, I don’t have to act like I have it all together. I don’t have to grit my teeth and just tough it out.’ If I can provide that for someone, that makes me happy.”
Her latest collection of confessional essays captures the ways in which the author dealt with the challenges of the last three years, from domestic squabbles to grappling with an unprecedented global health crisis. And compared to her other books, Irby says that Quietly Hostile stands apart as a chronicle of a very strange and specific time. “A feral maniac wrote it,” she says. “A person who didn’t say hello to anyone who didn’t live in her house for a year wrote a book. I hope it resonates with people.”