Today I went to see Roxanne Gay read several selections from her books Bad Feminist and An Untamed State at Florida Atlantic University. I enjoyed the readings from the novel very much and intend at some time in the near future to buy and read An Untamed State. The readings from Bad Feminist were compelling and yet light-hearted, playfully witty and yet with an implied gravitas.
I was most amused by her cavalier attitude towards the questions that followed her reading. The MFA students all asked about her writing process, which she was quick to answer dismissively. Another asked about her relation to Haiti, where her parents are from. I was simultaneously pleased and disappointed with her identification as a privileged person unable to speak about the realities there. True she can’t authentically speak as an envoy of some sort as it relates to the conditions of the major underclass there as her family are part of the elite, but this does not mean that she is unable to speak about such realities. Physical location of birth, a point which Gay referred to thrice in her identification as “Haitian-American”, and class do not themselves prevent people from speaking about others realities – otherwise there would be exceptionally prohibitive limits on various academic disciplines such as History, Political Science, Art, etc. They are, however, qualifiers that contextualize the discourse about speech acts made about the region/time.
With this in mind I think it would have been interested to discuss with Roxane about how it is that her novel An Untamed State came into being as Mireile, the novel’s protagonist, seems to be almost a stand in for her own fears from having visited the country repeatedly and being unable to hide from herself that her family was part of the ruling elite. From her reading and my subsequent perusal of articles detailing the plot of the novel, this makes the depiction of Haitians as a people of extreme violence take on an interesting valence. She is telling a story, yes, but perhaps projecting her own fears of location. Perhaps this is why she does not make the effort to learn about events there, it is “that which shall not be named”. At the time, however, I didn’t ask this. Instead I followed up on her comment that she liked the Ying Yang Twins by asking what other rap artists she liked – especially fitting as I was wearing my Run The Trap hat due to the frigid air outside. She said that she liked Common, Lil John and Usher and then proceeded to make multiple humorous comments about the narrative implausibility of Usher’s song “I Don’t Mind”.