Roxane Gay+Michigan+Chocolate+Gin and Tonics=Awesomeness

So this blogging thing. In order for it to work, I realize you have to actually write stuff.  It’s not that there haven’t been things to write about. So much has been happening. For example, last weekend I received the tickets in the photo to the left in the mail. Sheer Good Fortune indeed. I will be going to Virginia to hear Toni Morrison. I can’t tell you how excited I am about this. Let’s just say, I once made a pilgrimage to Lorain, Ohio. It’s that serious. The last time I heard her was years ago in Oakland. Even though the state of Virginia scares me (more on this later), I’m going to Virginia to hear Toni Morrison.

And also this: We were lucky enough to have Roxane Gay visit Michigan State for a few days. She read last night and killed it. Among the things she read, her story “North Country,” which is in this year’s Best American Short Stories. She also read her zombie story last night, which if you’ve read a previous post, you know I love her zombie story. I want her zombie story to have baby zombie stories. She also read about Morgan Freeman, Mr. Rogers, and yogurt. It was that kind of night. We recorded it, so you’ll be able to see the awesomeness. And then later, I brought her to our house and doused her with gin and tonics and chocolate as promised, and we laughed for four or five hours about all kinds of important things. Jeff and Tama Wray, and their wonderful cousin, and Terrion Williamson, and the hubby made it all happen. It was one of those moments where I remembered why I do any of this. I had a lot of those moments yesterday, thanks also in large part to the students here.  A few of my students brought me cookies yesterday.  Good times in Michigan.

Roxane recapped her time at MSU on her tumblr page in the awesomest of ways. Read about it here.

Here’s the intro I read for Roxane:

Welcome everyone. Thank you for coming out tonight.  It takes a lot for an event like this to happen. So I’d like to start off by thanking my colleagues Marcia Aldrich, and Robin Silbergleid. Peter Johnston, for his technical assistance. Sue Ann Plesko, Marilyn Duke, Linda Cornish, and Django Paris for their help with details. The past and current chairs of English, Steve Arch and Pat O’Donnell, for their support of this event. And to Al Bay at the Wild Goose Inn for making space available to students, to Cat Batsios, and Anna Goodson, the wonderful students selling books in the back. And finally thank you to all of the students who met with Roxane today.

We’re so lucky to have Roxane Gay visit MSU. This morning she met with a small group of students who are working on a project about Roxane and her work, she had lunch with another group students, and then she led a workshop with my intro to fiction class. And she drove all the way from Eastern Illinois last night. We’ve kept her way too busy. I’ve promised her gin and tonics and chocolate later and I’ve been force-feeding her diet cherry pepsi all day so hopefully she’ll leave East Lansing happy and with a hangover.

Roxane Gay’s writing appears or is forthcoming in Best American Short Stories 2012, The New York Times, Salon, Wall Street Journal, Virginia Quarterly Review, The Rumpus, American Short Fiction, Oxford American, Prairie Schooner, and many others. She is the co-editor of PANK and teaches writing at Eastern Illinois University.

So that’s the brief bio she sent us. I’m always amazed at the way bios can sap the life out of people. Just to give you a sense of not only what she writes about but also things linked to Roxane I’m just going to read a brief list: race, class, gender, zombies, sex, sexuality, sexual abuse, easy bake ovens, Chris Brown, Rihanna, Haiti, hip hop, the bachelorette, Nebraska, love, curse like a sailor, Survivor, 1980’s, The Hunger Games, The Rumpus, one tree hill, Jherri Curls, Mitt Romney, Bill Clinton, panties, competitive scrabble, literary death match, Obama, and last but not least, diet cherry pepsi.  

And this doesn’t even cover everything.

Like her debut multigenre collection Ayiti, Roxane’s writing, both in form and content, pushes against what many think writing should do, or be, or sound like.

The first piece of writing I read by Roxane was her essay “A Profound Sense of Absence” in which she offers a thoughtful critique of the 2010 Best American Short Stories for its lack of representation of writers of color, and for its overabundance of stories about, in Roxane’s words, “rich or nearly rich white people.”  “How,” asks Roxane “do we talk about race, class, and gender and increasing the representation of the Other in the writing being published today, without alienating each other or being hysterical and reactionary?”

Roxane asks necessary questions, which because they are so necessary often make people uncomfortable. And, she also finds ways to make us laugh. If we only hear her critique, we miss her humor, and if we only hear her humor we miss her much needed critique, even when she’s writing about Jheri Curls.

But there’s something else I think her writing elicits from people, something so basic, but so crucial to her work. It’s a feeling of connectedness many people feel, when they read her writing, the feeling that not only do we know Roxane and her characters, but she knows us, all of us, frighteningly well—what we dream about, what we long for, what terrifies us, what we want to remember, what we wish we could forget, what we’ve lost, what makes us laugh, what we despise, and what we hold dear.  

This is only my second time meeting Roxane. The first was this past spring at AWP when I invited her to be on a panel about Black Women’s Contemporary Short Fiction. But it feels as if I’ve known her for a while.

But my students sum up this feeling best.

Last semester in English 353, Readings in Women Writers, Stacy Sutter, Cheyenne Roy, Elaine Johnson, and Sarah Semroc created a tumblr page about Roxane and her writing. On one page they write: “In short, we love Roxane Gay.  Not only did she inspire this Tumblr with her short fiction collection Ayiti, but she also inspires us as young writers who seek to engage and interact with current pop culture.  Her blog, I have become accustomed to rejection, is both thoughtful and hilarious.”

On behalf of the College of Arts and Letters, and the Department of English, and with the support of the Platt Ruble Endowment, please join me in welcoming Roxane Gay.


It would be great if Roxane stayed in East Lansing, but she’s already up and tweeting about some woman singing in the shower.
And finally this: I’m super excited that Asali Solomon, Tiphanie Yanique, and Danielle Evans all may SKYPE in to my class this semester. All around awesomeness.

Rae Paris