Ross Gay: “It’s Never Been the Institutions, It’s Always Been Our Neighbor.”
In Conversation with Mitzi Rapkin on the First Draft Podcast
First Draft: A Dialogue of Writing is a weekly show featuring in-depth interviews with fiction, nonfiction, essay writers, and poets, highlighting the voices of writers as they discuss their work, their craft, and the literary arts. Hosted by Mitzi Rapkin, First Draft celebrates creative writing and the individuals who are dedicated to bringing their carefully chosen words to print as well as the impact writers have on the world we live in.
In this episode, Mitzi talks to Ross Gay about his new book, Inciting Joy.
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From the episode:
Mitzi Rapkin: You talk about this notion in many different ways in terms of the harm that is done just being alive, like to the environment or people. It’s really heavy when you’re talking about joy, but it’s reality.
Ross Gay: Yeah, it’s totally reality. I think one of the things about joy, I think, is that it’s a profoundly impure emotion. I think that joy is not interested in innocence. I think joy is actually interested in connection and this sort of muddiness of our cohabitation or being together. I think joy understands complicity. Joy understands harm, too. Because it understands that we’re connected to one another and we are not, “innocent” or “pure”, it’s not interested in that. It might be more likely to incite us to try to remedy the various harms that by being creatures we will commit.
I think that’s one of the things that feels so exciting or enlivening or dangerous about joy is that by emerging from our understanding of connection to one another, and illuminating our connection to one another, it reminds us that our connection to one another is actually what might save us and what has always saved us. It’s never been the institutions, it’s always been our neighbor. It’s always been, you know, the person down the street. It’s always just been us. So, that’s kind of how I think about it, that it’s dangerous.
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 new collection of essays is called Inciting Joy.