On February 22 at Town Hall Seattle, the remarkable feminist writer Roxane Gay shared from her first collection of short stories, Difficult Women, and spoke on “the grace beyond this disgrace” in post-election America for SAL’s 2016/17 WYNK Series. SAL Executive Director Ruth Dickey introduced Roxane, and Ijeoma Oluo moderated the Q&A session.
By Ruth Dickey, SAL Executive Director
I read Bad Feminist in the break between Christmas and New Years, at a time when I had space to take it with me to coffee shops and lunches and sofas, which felt like a traveling feast of conversations. Indeed, reading the collection feels like a series of conversations with an old, super smart, funny friend. Whether unpacking a love for Sweet Valley High, or exploring how our culture condones violence, or thoughtfully critiquing Junot Díaz or Sheryl Sandberg, Roxane Gay’s writing is always thoughtful, incisive and illuminating. I began putting sticky notes and flags into the book (pink ones, of course) and soon it was festooned in pink. It’s a book full of things I want to mark, and remember, and contemplate, and share.
Roxane’s ability to passionately hold a love for pink, Vogue and scrabble – at the same time she explores violence and shame – awes me. It’s the same ability that allows her to write, in an essay about both the Oslo mass shootings and the death of Amy Winehouse: “We are all stinking messes, every last one of us, or we once were messes and found our way out, or we are trying to find our way out of a mess, scratching, reaching.”
This is the kind of sentence that makes me want to stand up and yell HALLELUJAH! Roxane’s writings are filled with such sentences, holding simultaneously an unflinching view of that which is horrifying and a breathtaking abundant compassion for the unresolved, the complicated, the mess.
She is the author of the celebrated novel An Untamed State, the essay collection, Bad Feminist, and the heartbreaking and luminous new collection of short stories, Dangerous Women, which I simply could not put down. Her writing has been widely featured, including in Best American Short Stories, and she is a co-editor of PANK and the essay editor for the Rumpus. She is a professor in the M.F.A. Writing Program at Purdue University, and if you don’t follow her on Twitter, you are missing one of my favorite parts of the twitter-sphere.
In one of my favorite essays, “What We Hunger For,” she writes: “You think you are alone until you find books about girls like you. Salvation is certainly among the reasons I read. Reading and writing have always pulled me out of the darkest experiences in my life. Stories have given me a place in which to lose myself. They have allowed me to remember. They have allowed me to forget. They have allowed me to imagine different endings and better possible worlds.”
Roxane’s writing has given us all the gift of reflecting complicated stories of all sorts of women experiencing violence, loss, and love. Her writing challenges us, engages us, and respects us enough not to have easy answers. Please join me in welcoming the author of so many necessary stories in which we can see ourselves and our stinking messes, and imagine our ways to different endings and better possible worlds, Roxane Gay.