This week, bestselling author Ross Gay discusses his new essay collection Inciting Joy. In these gorgeously written and timely pieces, Gay considers the joy we incite when we care for each other, especially during life’s inevitable hardships. This conversation originally took place November 1, 2022 at the American Writers Museum and was recorded live.
This episode is presented in conjunction with our special exhibit Dark Testament: A Century of Black Writers on Justice. Explore the exhibit now at the American Writers Museum.
About the book: In Inciting Joy, which Ada Limón calls “brilliant,” Ross Gay once again proves a luminous observer of our shared humanity. From gardeners offering their abundance to the conviviality of pickup basketball games, from public displays of skateboarding to private heartaches, such as caring for his dying father, Gay investigates how joy and sorrow are inextricably linked.
“My hunch is that joy, emerging from our common sorrow—which does not necessarily mean we have the same sorrows, but that we, in common, sorrow—might draw us together,” Gay ponders. “It might depolarize us and de-atomize us enough that we can consider what, in common, we love. And though attending to what we hate in common is too often all the rage (and it happens also to be very big business), noticing what we love in common, and studying that, might help us survive.”
Looking clear-eyed at the injustice, political polarization, and destruction of the natural world, Gay shows us how we might resist, how the possibility of joy is available to us if we seek the things in our lives that prepare the ground for that joy. Then, moving beyond what incites joy, he explores what joy incites, suggesting perhaps a wild, unpredictable, transgressive and unboundaried solidarity among us.
ROSS GAY is the author of four books of poetry: Against Which; Bringing the Shovel Down; Be Holding, winner of the PEN American Literary Jean Stein Award; and Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude, winner of the 2015 National Book Critics Circle Award and the 2016 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award. His first collection of essays, The Book of Delights, was released in 2019 and was a New York Times bestseller. His newest collection of essays, Inciting Joy, was released by Algonquin in October of 2022.