Roxane Gay Wins PEN Center USA Freedom to Write Award
If you enjoy reading Electric Literature, join our mailing list! We’ll send you the best of EL each week, and you’ll be the first to know about upcoming submissions periods and virtual events.
by Melissa Ragsdale
Yesterday, Roxane Gay was named the winner of the PEN Center USA Freedom to Write Award through an announcement on Literary Hub. Gay is the author of Bad Feminist and An Untamed State, a prolific essayist, an editor, a Twitter goddess, and an English professor at Purdue University.
She is, perhaps above all else, an advocate — for women, people of color, the LGBT community, victims of sexual assault, and “anyone else who’s disenfranchised, who’s made to feel weak or small.” Her advocacy is made particularly special by its accessibility and its clarity, her distinct ability to express the nuances of an issue alongside a genuine belief that every person has the capacity to improve. From her recent New York Times op-ed “Where Are Black Children Safe?” to her popular TED Talk to the essays in Bad Feminist to the daily commentary on her Twitter feed, Gay is a hard-hitter who continuously stands up for what is right.
She says in her introduction to Bad Feminist. “I am raising my voice to show all the ways we have room to want more, to do better.”
The PEN Center Freedom to Write Award is awarded to “individuals and organizations that have produced notable work in the face of extreme adversity or demonstrated exceptional courage in the defense of free expression.” Gay will receive the award as part of PEN Center USA’s 25th Annual Literary Awards Festival on November 16th. Along with her, John Kiriakou will receive the First Amendment Award, Francis Ford Coppola will receive the Lifetime Achievement Award, and the independent nonprofit news organization ProPublica will receive the Award of Honor.
On winning the award, Gay says, “The freedom to write has been one of my life’s greatest blessings and it is a freedom that should be available to everyone who wants or needs to share their voice, I am thankful that organizations like PEN Center USA are doing the necessary work to ensure that such freedom is protected. It is humbling to be considered worthy of such an award. I am thrilled and honored.”