Roxane Gay scheduled to visit WKU tonight after last semester’s cancellation

Roxane Gay reads excerpts from her book “Hunger” as part of WKU’s Cultural Enhancement Series at Van Meter Hall on Feb. 8. Gay opened the floor to audience questions and participated in a book signing after the event.

Hannah Good

Writer, professor and commentator Roxane Gay is scheduled to speak today in Van Meter Hall after a back injury caused a last-minute cancellation for her scheduled appearance last fall.

Gay’s agent, Trinity Ray, told the Herald last semester Gay had torn a muscle in her back.

The free event is co-sponsored by the Cultural Enhancement Series and the Gender and Women’s Studies Program. Students are anticipating the event with mixed reactions due to Gay’s response to student reactions to the cancellation.

One such student, Courtney Thompson, a Shelbyville senior, received a reply from Gay on Twitter after she expressed hope for Gay’s return.

“As the announcement says, this is being rescheduled,” Gay replied in a tweet on Sept. 18, 2017. 

Thompson said Gay’s “frank response” took her off guard, but she could understand why Gay would react so strongly in the midst of an injury.

“She’s kind of a very strong-willed woman,” Thompson said. “With the response I got from her, I’m interested to see if my opinion is swayed.”

Gay’s books include the New York Times bestselling essay collection “Bad Feminist: Essays” and “Difficult Women,” a book of short stories. Her work often discusses themes of imperfection and an unwillingness to be held up as a representative for all feminists or all women.

“I am messy,” Gay writes in the introduction to “Bad Feminist: Essays.” “I’m not trying to be an example. I am not trying to be perfect.”

Thompson also said while she acknowledges the benefit of the Cultural Enhancement Series, she also questions the high rates of speaker fees while WKU faces a nearly $40 million budget deficit.

According to Kelly Scott, communications coordinator for Potter College of Arts and Letters, the Cultural Enhancement Series is paying Gay $28,000 for the event.

“I was originally excited, but everything with the deficit and issues with the Herald lawsuit… the university is struggling so hard for money,” Thompson said. “I don’t know if she’s worth that amount.”

Kristi Branham, director of the gender and women’s studies program, said even amidst WKU’s tough financial situation, the Cultural Enhancement Series remains important because it allows WKU to bring big-name speakers that individual departments wouldn’t be able to otherwise.

“There’s no way I would be able to come up with that money otherwise,” Branham said. “My little program wouldn’t be able to do that. I’d have to work really hard.”

She said she has personally benefited from the series bringing in big-name speakers.

“Meeting Gloria Steinem was so important to me,” Branham said. “There’s such a range of musical guests, thinkers, things I would never have the opportunity to experience otherwise.”

Branham also said she’s excited to hear Gay speak about her most recent work, “Hunger,” a memoir about body image, overeating and her experience with rape.

“It’s just brutal,” Branham said of the book. “What amazes me most is her ability to bare her soul … her courage and bravery to be willing to take on criticism.”

Branham said Gay’s appearance at WKU is especially timely in the midst of the public focus on sexual assault with the #metoo movement and President Donald Trump’s comments about countries such as El Salvador and Haiti, where Gay’s parents were born. Branham said many of her students are eagerly anticipating Gay’s visit.

“The opportunity for students—that’s the most exciting part for me, “ Branham said.

WKU alumna and Bowling Green native Briana Phillips will turn 25-years-old the day of Gay’s event at WKU and said she plans to attend to celebrate her birthday. She said many of the aspects of Gay’s public image and themes in “Bad Feminist: Essays” resonated with her.

“I’m outspoken, and I have outspoken opinions,” Phillips said. “I feel like it’s for the betterment of others, but sometimes that doesn’t make you friends. I think it’s more important to focus on being alive and being a good person.”

News reporter Hannah Good can be reached at 270-745-6011 and [email protected]