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“Bad Feminist” Author Roxane Gay Discusses 2018 Common Reading

Renowned essayist and cultural critic Roxane Gay presented the 2018 William A. Starr Distinguished Lecture in November. In a talk titled “Roxane Gay: With One N,” the author discussed her New York Times best-selling book Bad Feminist, which was chosen as the common reading for Vassar’s incoming class of 2022.

Photo: Courtesy of Roxane Gay

The Chapel, where the lecture was held, was packed with first-year students and others eager to hear her reflect on and read selections from her work.

Photo: Courtesy of Harper Perennial

Bad Feminist, she said, had been inspired by a question: “How do we reconcile things we enjoy with the consequences they bring?” As an example, she disclosed her love of certain rap artists, even ones that sometimes serve up lyrics dripping with misogyny. Though she embraces feminism, she says such inconsistencies sometimes put her at odds with accepted feminist values. Nevertheless, she concluded, hers and other “feminisms” matter.

A few hours prior to her lecture, Gay spoke to students in two writing seminars—taught by professors Leslie Dunn and Quincy Mills—for an informal discussion about the common reading and her writing practices. The author, who is known for her candid, soul-baring essays, told students she writes “despite being scared.” Her visit led to broader conversations about feminism, politics, and reproductive rights—particularly given that the American midterm elections had taken place less than 24 hours prior to her arrival at Vassar.

Gay is a contributing opinion writer for the New York Times and the author of numerous other books, including Hunger, Difficult Women, and Black Panther: World of Wakanda.