'Bad Feminist' author Roxane Gay to speak at Williams

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Williamstown — Over the last several years, author Roxane Gay has forged a place for herself in modern feminism thanks to her unique voice and personal experiences that speak to wider truths about race and gender.

Gay will speak at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 15, at Williams College in Chapin Hall.

Her 2014 collection, "Bad Feminist" highlighted her talent and insight. Gay looked at the contradictions that can be involved in feminism through a pop culture lens, delivered with her typical humor and empathy. In it, Gay tackled everything from the Sweet Valley High book series to her own autobiographical stories of being Haitian-American and analysis of topics like abortion.

"I enjoy using humor because it is important to create a human connection with people," Gay said, "and humor is a great way to go about doing that when you're going to talk about complex and fraught topics. In terms of using personal stories, I do so to identify my subject's position and let readers know where I'm coming from or why I feel qualified to speak on a given topic."

It's a style that has endeared her to a number of readers, as well as opened up interesting new worlds, like comic books. Gay has scripted "World of Wakanda" — alongside poet Yona Harvey and in collaboration with Ta-Nehisi Coates — which builds on aspects of the Marvel Comics character Black Panther, who as well as being the first black superhero is also king of a fictional African nation. Gay's comic will focus on two members of Black Panther's female security force, who are also lovers.

"I was particularly eager to write black queer women into a genre where they have been sorely under-represented," she said. "I thought I could bring my talent for storytelling and writing love stories and writing women who are nuanced. The genre has a lot of growing to do."

Signing onto the project was both a historical marker for Marvel Comics and, Gay hopes, a sign of things to come for the company.

"I was the first black woman to lead a Marvel comic, in 2016, which makes no sense," said Gay. "Comic publishers need to continue inviting under-represented people to write comics. Marvel is doing a really good job. I'm particularly excited about forthcoming comics from Gabby Rivera and Saladin Ahmed. Hopefully, this momentum will continue building."

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Gay has made the news recently thanks to her decision to withdraw the publication of her upcoming book, "How To Be Heard," in response to the publisher's signing of Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos for a large monetary advance. Yiannopoulos is a controversial figure with white supremacist leanings who was recently in the news after he had to cancel an appearance at UC Berkley over anarchist protests. Other authors followed with public protest against the publisher's decision.

"I simply did not want to publish a book with a publisher willing to give someone like Milo an even bigger platform for the damaging, intolerant and often cruel rhetoric he espouses," Gay said. "It was a stand I could afford to make, so I made it. I never imagined it would become a news story. Everyone has their own considerations for what to do in situations like this. I just decided that if I speak against intolerance, I should be willing to stand against intolerance, too."

Gay said she is encouraged by the Women's March on Washington, D.C., and the wave of activism that has resulted in people taking to the streets to peacefully protest.

"It was a great initiative and it thrilled me to see how many people, around the world, marched against Trump," she said.

At the same time, Gay thinks it's important to understand the initial response of women of color, who were concerned about their place within the march, is a reflection of the commitment need to fight for justice and rights. For some, the desire to march began with the election of Trump, but Gay points out that the need for those bodies on the street began long before and is likely to continue after, and she hopes the commitment that has been birthed so quickly and so fiercely in 2017 recognizes that.

"Women of color have long been marching and could have used this level of solidarity for something like Black Lives Matter or any of the other issues we've fought for over the years," Gay said.

Gay hopes that consideration for intersectionality becomes a standard part of the new popular push to protest, and that the commitment of women of color in fighting for justice provides an example for movements like the Women's March as they go forward.

"We have to be vigilant and persistent, and wise in picking the battles we fight," she said.


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