Archive/Author-professor-editor Roxanne Gay speaks at LC
By Carmel Companiott & Ben Weinstein
Originally published on the old KLC Tumblr blog: March 14, 2017
As part of Lewis & Clark College’s 36th annual Gender Studies Symposium, Roxanne Gay spoke to a sold-out house on March 10th. Gay is a writer, cultural critic, professor, and active Twitter user who confronts the state of modern culture with a sharp mix of humor and insight. She brought this wit to LC in the form of an hour and a half talk, comprised mainly of her reading short stories from her recent collection Difficult Women and then giving a lengthy and thorough Q&A session.
Gay read two short stories, entitled Florida and Open Marriage, as well as an essay she composed after Donald Trump’s 2016 election. The short stories explored varied subjects, but remained linked by Gay’s sense of humor and matter-of-fact writing style. Gay began with Open Marriage, prefacing the reading with a short tangent about Jamie Lee Curtis commercials and Activia yogurt, assuring the crowd that the nasty yogurt really does work. She also built suspense for the story by claiming that “The first time [she] read it, someone threw up.” The narrator of Open Marriage describes a time her husband suggested an open marriage; he wants to explore sexual possibilities with other women. The narrator in uninterested herself, but, as she eats Activia seductively, assures him that he can do whatever he wants. She plays with him and, over the course of their conversation, we realize that he is not going to pursue his own suggestion – when it comes to sex, he has always been at her feet. In Florida, Gay explores an array of people and lives behind closed doors of a gated community in – you guessed it - Florida. She touches on themes of race, class, and sexuality in each house.
Before opening up the floor for a Q&A session, Gay read her political essay. Here, she left her usual sense of humor behind and instead attempted to confront the pain and hopelessness she experienced on November 8th, 2016 with an unflinching seriousness. She referred to this new era as the “Age of American Disgrace,” and questioned how best to proceed. She challenged the hopeful slogans, such as “Love Trumps Hate,” because, as the election proved, love does not always win in the United States. She also grapples with avoiding vapid idealism while also avoiding complete and utter hopelessness. In response to the white people that have come to her after the election with shame and pity, she stated: “I don’t want your shame; I want your fight.”
Following the pair of short stories and the essay, Gay opened up the floor to a question and answer session. Attendees of the talk asked a wide range of questions, touching on topics ranging from Remy Ma and Nicki Minaj’s recent feud to methods of combatting people who refuse to acknowledge the use of they/them pronouns. Other artistic/pop-culture topics arose throughout the Q&A, including this year’s Oscars, specifically in relation to Best Picture winner Moonlight and the drama surrounding the reception of the award. Raoul Peck’s Oscar-nominated I Am Not Your Negro also became a topic of conversation, which Gay brought up during a discussion about her thoughts on violent versus non-violent protesting. She observed, within her answer, the degree to which white people have twisted the image of Martin Luther King Jr. into somebody they’re more comfortable celebrating, and also tied in the recent protests surrounding alt-right figurehead and general piece of shit Milo Yiannopoulos’ recent (would be) appearance at University of California, Berkeley.
Gay also gave powerful advice to several students who asked her for words of wisdom regarding more personal aspirations. One of these questions concerned how to write about important issues without necessarily knowing how to. “I wait until I feel the fire,” Gay said of her own writing experience. She recalled her immediate reactions to some of the past few years’ most horrifying tragedies, and encouraged the aspiring writer to speak up when they feel they have something unique and important to say.
She ended up giving fairly thorough answers to seventeen total questions, making for an incredibly wide-spanning talk about a variety of pressing social issues. Her responses brought together urgent points about racism, sexism, xenophobia and bigotry with clever witticisms that ignited the room in a fit of laughter. Lewis & Clark College should feel incredibly lucky to host such an accomplished mind as Gay’s, as well as thankful towards those that helped host this year’s Gender Studies Symposium.
This post is part of The KLC blog Archive. The previous & now defunct KLC blog, formally known as The Umbrella, can be found here.