Roxane Gay — a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times, an associate professor of English at Purdue University and the author of “Hunger” and “Bad Feminist,” among other highly acclaimed bestsellers — has kept a busy schedule for years. She now adds the title of a visiting associate professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Yale to her lengthy resume.
This semester, Gay, who has taken a sabbatical from Purdue, will fly to New Haven on alternate weeks to teach a three-hour writing seminar titled “Writing Trauma,” a skill she has honed through her personal work and which, as she told the News, will be “valuable to students.” On the off weeks, will Skype into class. When asked how she will balance everything — the writing, the professorship and the advising commitments at Purdue — Gay noted that a heavy workload is not new for her.
“I am incredibly busy, but I’ve managed to teach and have a writing career for the past 13 years,” Gay said. “It will be fine.”
Gay, who completed two years of undergraduate education at Yale, joins the University as one of 10 Presidential Visiting Fellows this academic year. Launched in the 2016–17 academic year, the program is a part of a broader University-wide faculty diversity effort.
In addition to her class, Gay will partake in two public events — a reading of her work followed by a Q&A on Feb. 5 and a panel discussion on writing about trauma on March 5 — sponsored by the Women Faculty Forum and other groups.
“Having a public intellectual on campus who writes about these different aspects of gender and feminism … is a great opportunity for WFF and the Yale campus to engage more with these issues,” said Claire Bowern, women’s faculty forum chair and professor of linguistics. “Secondly, but also importantly, I think of Roxane Gay as a role model of an academic with a broad engagement in public scholarship.”
Gay has never taught this specific course, but the material is not foreign to her. Her recent book, “Hunger,” which includes a raw account of the rape she experienced at age 12 and her struggles with overeating, has garnered acclaim and is a New York Times bestseller.
Gay has also received recognition for works that diverge from revealing memoirs. She pens for the Marvel comic “World of Wakanda”; she and her co-author are the first black women to be lead writers for Marvel. She has also written fiction. Her book, “Difficult Women,” follows a variety of female protagonists through a series of short stories.
“Hers is a singular voice that reveals poignantly and unblinkingly the space where the personal is the political, the political is the personal,” said Richard Deming, senior lecturer in English. “Her work provokes, in the best sense of the word. It calls forth voices. That is a vital, vitalizing thing for a writer and a teacher in these fraught days.”
Her seminar attracted approximately 115 applicants, of which she admitted just 15. According to Uma Dwivedi ’22, the application requested general information about students, asked about their creative writing experience and verified that students would feel “willing and able” to tackle the course material.
Dwivedi, who had read some of Gay’s works before the class, said that its first day featured the hallmarks of shopping period — a discussion of the goals of the course and of the four essays assigned for the first day. For the first year, the class offers a rare opportunity to explore writing trauma “with good faith, tenderness, compassion, kindness and also an unflinching honesty.”
“I’m looking forward to the experience of workshopping creative writing, and I’m looking forward to a deeper understanding of how to render trauma,” Dwivedi said.
Gay was born in Omaha, Nebraska.
Carly Wanna | firstname.lastname@example.org