Roxane Gay, bestselling author and opinion writer, spoke at the Cambridge Rindge & Latin School on Oct. 28. She spoke about her recent novel, “Opinions: A Decade of Arguments, Criticism, and Minding Other People's Business” which features a collection of her essays from the past decade.
Throughout her writing career, Gay’s writing has maintained a distinct voice: straightforward and blunt. She doesn’t sugarcoat anything, and this was exemplified in her talk; when asked how she was feeling, Gay joked, “I mean, it depends if you pretend the rest of the world doesn’t exist.”
She addressed her status as a public figure, admitting: “I wouldn’t recommend it.” She also covers this topic in the “Introduction” section of her new book: “There are the trolls who look for your most tender weaknesses, the places where you are too vulnerable, and then they dig and dig at you. … The cruelty can be relentless and heartbreaking” (p. xxii). Nevertheless, Gay does her best to ignore the trolls and continue publishing her opinions, proving that her sharing her ideas is more important than listening to cruel criticism.
At her Cambridge event, Gay called her new novel a “time capsule” of her work, which is the perfect way to describe the collection of essays. She’s organized each section of the novel in chronological order. It’s fascinating to read through them and be taken back to pre-COVID-19 or pre-2020 elections. Readers are able to reflect on the opinions they held during the time when each essay was published.
Gay’s intelligence was apparent in her frequent witty remarks. She cracked jokes that pushed past the line of the “typical book talk topic,” such as her tangents about the Fast and Furious movie series, after admitting that her “So Fast, So Damn Furious” piece is her favorite piece in the collection. This light-hearted piece is one which breaks up the intense essays in her novel. She told the audience why this balance is important: “[We should] recognize that yes, things are actually quite terrible. But we should also highlight the things that make us joyful, because otherwise, what are we fighting for, and all of the justice-oriented work that we do? And that's why I did include a few funny pieces in the book to remind everyone like, it's okay to also laugh. We can do both.”
Besides “So Fast, So Damn Furious,” one of the standout pieces in “Opinions” is “The Case Against Hope.” Originally published in the New York Times in 2019, this piece is just as relevant today as it was then. In the essay, Gay says, “Because I write about difficult subjects — gender, sexual violence, sexuality, race — people wondering ‘Now what?’ often ask me about hope.” She goes on to say that she “doesn’t traffic in hope,” but rather, “Realism is more my ministry.” This realistic point of view is apparent in Gay’s work. No matter the focal point of her articles, Gay’s writing breaks down concepts and recent events in a way that acknowledges the range of opinions on the topic, pushing readers to think about every angle.
The second part of the talk was dedicated to questions. Audience members asked insightful questions and Gay took her time to answer each one in detail, talking directly to the audience member who’d asked the question. In response to one such question, Gay explained that she’s selective about when she shares her opinion: “Just because you have an opinion does not actually mean it needs to be expressed. And so I am working on knowing when to say something and when to listen.”
One of Gay’s strengths is powerful, punchy ending lines. Lines like “I have a voice and I am going to use it, as loudly as I can” (“Hate That Doesn’t Hide [on Trump’s Presidency]”). Or: “I am ready to fight for the future, no matter what it holds. Are you?” (“I Am Shattered but Ready to Fight”). Gay concluded her talk much like she ends her essays, saying: “It’s just gonna be rough for the next while … the next year is gonna suck. I don’t have any nice words for you about that.” Gay has always shared her opinions honestly, bluntly and unapologetically and seems committed to continuing to do so.
Luckily for fans of her work, Gay has more novels coming out in the near future; when asked if she’d ever write a children’s book, Gay responded, “I’m open to it,” and shared she’s “writing a YA novel that will be out in 2025.” She also announced a book of writing advice that will be coming out the same year. The main takeaway from her talk and new novel is: Gay won’t be holding back her opinions any time soon.