Roxane Gay ’92 to speak at MLK Day

Prolific author and social commentator keynotes Exeter’s celebration of the slain civil rights leader.

Nicole Pellaton
January 14, 2021
Roxane Gay

Roxane Gay, author of groundbreaking books, short fiction and frequent commentator at The New York Times, The Rumpus, Salon and The Nation, will anchor Exeter’s 31st annual celebration of the life of Martin Luther King Jr. on Jan. 18. Gay’s oeuvre — consisting of 13 books, uncountable essays and social commentaries, and an active Twitter account — focuses on a broad range of topics, including racism, feminism, gender identities, the immigrant experience, body image and politics.

A survivor of rape at the age of 12, Gay has written about her experience and the lifelong repercussions in essays and memoirs. It was her English teacher at Exeter, Rex McGuinn, who recognized promise in her writing, Gay explains, and encouraged her to seek counseling. Working with McGuinn, Gay reports, “saved me.”

In 2014 Gay published “Bad Feminist,” a collection of essays that went on to become a New York Times bestseller, and “An Untamed State,” her first novel. Time Magazine responded by declaring, "Let this be the year of Roxane Gay." The Guardian critic Kira Cochrane, in a review, wrote this about Gay: “For years she felt that as a black woman – particularly one who has, at times, identified as queer – feminism wasn't for her, because the movement ‘has, historically, been far more invested in improving the lives of heterosexual white women to the detriment of all others.’ … But she supports feminism's aims, wants equal opportunities for men and women, reproductive freedom and affordable healthcare for all, so she came up with the label Bad Feminist, which punctures the need for perfection. Her Bad Feminist essay is a clarion call to bad feminists everywhere – for pluralism, collective effort and mutual respect – and the most persuasive feminist recruitment drive in recent memory.”

Most recently, in a piece titled “We’ve Seen the Ugly Truth About America,” Gay wrote about the insurrection at the Capitol in Washington. “On Wednesday, the world bore witness to white supremacy unchecked. I nearly choked on the bitter pill of what white people who no doubt condemned Black Lives Matter protesters as ‘thugs’ felt so entitled to do.” 

The theme of Exeter’s observance of MLK Day this year is “(Beyond) A Day of Service." This year, unlike previous years, MLK Day will be entirely virtual. Students will watch the keynote from around the world. During the rest of the day, students will take part in local service projects and learn about the civil rights movement. They have been provided with links to a documentary film fest titled “Where do we go from here?”; to virtual tours of the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, and the National Museum of African American History and Culture; to music and stories from the civil rights movement; and to a virtual 5K challenge.

“The virtual program invites us to engage deeply with our home communities, King’s visions, and our anti-racist campus goals," says English Instructor Courtney Marshall, one of the co-chairs of MLK Day, along with Director of Equity and Inclusion Stephanie Bramlett and Science Instructor Kadeine Peterson. "It’s a wonderful way to be together though we are apart."

On Jan. 15, students will showcase original works in “UnSilenced,” a program described by the producers as a “social justice evening of art, poetry, music, and more.”