Yesterday Roxane Gay was awarded PEN USA’s Freedom to Write award, given to those who demonstrate “exceptional courage in the defense of free expression.” The Bad Feminist and An Untamed State author followed up today by posting her acceptance speech on Tumblr. In the speech, Gay accepts the award with grace, while also standing up for her voice in a social media-infused world that sometimes gangs up on female voices.
“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,” Gay writes. “Those who disagree with me, often on Twitter, call this arrogance and I am absolutely fine with that.”
Gay recently penned articles in defense of campus protestors and college students’ demands for safe spaces, two hot-button topics that have forced her into long Twitter debates with everyone from picture-less “egg” accounts to The Wire creator David Simon.
“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,” she writes. “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.”
In the wake of these campus debates (at Yale, Mizzou, and elsewhere) many pundits have argued that free speech alone is more important than what they deride as “political correctness.” But in her speech, Gay acknowledges that those with the freedom to speak their minds must also accept responsibility for their words.
“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,” Gay writes. “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.”
Head to Tumblr to read her entire speech. Gay’s next book, Hunger, is due out in 2016.