Writer, pundit, activist Roxane Gay speaks

By Keely Savoie

Roxane Gay has made a reputation for herself by refusing to pull punches. The award-winning author of books with such self-explanatory titles as An Untamed State, Bad Feminist and most recently, Difficult Women, Gay explores complex, difficult themes of human fragility and strength, creating characters of uncommon depth and surprising bravery.

So it was no surprise that Gay found an eager audience at Mount Holyoke College, some of whom came in on buses from Franklin Pierce University in New Hampshire. She filled Gamble Auditorium with a standing-room only crowd for her public lecture, “Flashpoint!,” which was presented as part of the Weissman Center for Leadership’s Imagination series.

Cracking jokes in between reading passages from her novels and essays, Gay maintained a light tone while tackling the serious political and cultural issues in what she called this “Age of American Disgrace.”

She lamented the current political climate that has put women, immigrants, people of color and LGBT communities in the crosshairs of policies aimed at disenfranchising these vulnerable populations even further. She spoke openly about her disappointment in activists who denounce the country because of its leadership: “I don’t want your shame,” she said. “I want your fight.” 

She denounced “allies” who afford themselves the “comfortable distance” of “allyship” — expressing solidarity with an oppressed group — over personal investment. She decried white women who chose their race over their gender in the presidential election. She questioned the use of identity politics that often seems to divide people by their differences more than unify them by their shared goals.

“Change requires a lot of imagination,” Gay said, referring to the theme of the night. “[Change requires] a willingness to think differently, act differently and react differently.”

In the question-and-answer session that followed her reading, Gay covered topics that ranged from the practice and politics of writing to how to combat sexism and racism in a hostile atmosphere.

“Truth is our greatest ally,” she said. “We have to keep moving, keep doing our work. The purpose of art is to bear witness.”

At the end of Gay’s talk, the crowd gave her a sustained and enthusiastic standing ovation.

The following day, Gay led an extended question-and-answer session for students who are writers and aspiring writers.

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