Roxane Gay’s PEN USA Freedom to Write Acceptance Speech

From Roxane Gay’s website:

I am often told that I am fearless, that I am brave, because I write, openly and unabashedly, about race and gender, sexuality, popular culture, sexual violence, the body, identity.
GettyImages-497497062In truth, I am not fearless. I am terrified but I write anyway. I pretend no one is going to read my words and I try to make sense of this world that is so breathtaking and beautiful and complicated and hideous.

I allow myself to believe my perspective, how I choose to narrate the world, is as valuable as anyone else who chooses to do so. I allow myself to believe my life experiences have relevance. I allow myself to believe my voice matters in a world where as a woman, as a black woman, as a Haitian American woman, as a bisexual woman, I am told to remain silent in so many harmful ways.

Those who disagree with me, often on Twitter, call this arrogance and I am absolutely fine with that.

I refuse to accept that inequality or violence and suffering are things we must accept as facts of life as if we do not dare to want for better, for more. I see this world as it is but I refuse to accept this world as it is. In my writing, there is no room for complacency.

I write this way because I am, by luck of birth, afforded the freedom of expression as an inalienable right. There is often a lot of muddled talk about this freedom because far too many people do not realize that the freedom of expression does not exist in a vacuum. We have this freedom to write, to speak, to express ourselves as we choose, but we are never free from consequences. With such a powerful right comes a powerful responsibility to express ourselves carefully, thoughtfully, and to consider the reach and repercussions of what we say and do in the name of freedom.

As a writer, I take this responsibility as seriously as I embrace my right to express myself as I want. Sometimes I fall short but always, I try to live up to this responsibility. I try not to take the freedom of writing for granted.

I thank PEN USA for finding me worthy of this honor. This is a most unexpected and gratifying award. I will continue to write. I will continue to be terrified yet brave because these are not incompatible emotions. I thank my parents for instilling in me the confidence to believe my ideas matter. I thank the editors who help shape my words, artfully and especially Maya Ziv, who edited Bad Feminist and Amy Hundley who edited An Untamed State. Last but never least, I thank my partner in crime who is the shelter in the storm and the person who makes it possible for me to be brave by seeing me as I really am and not looking away.