Authors Kiese Laymon and Roxane Gay were virtual Tolles Lecture guests on March 25.

In the first virtual Tolles lecture on March 25, bestselling authors Roxane Gay and Kiese Laymon offered a conversation brimming with honesty and camaraderie for an otherwise isolated, at-home audience. From discussing what it means to become a well-known Black author to the nuances of writing during a pandemic, Gay and Laymon engaged and resonated with the nearly 600 people who tuned into the Zoom event.

After the authors attended a reception with Hamilton BIPOC students, Professor of Literature and Creative Writing Tina Hall moderated the lecture, asking Gay and Laymon viewers’ questions throughout the session. The discussion started with the duo’s description of their favorite happenings in pop culture today and evolved into a frank exchange about content warnings, writing for popular publications, and the strain of studying and working at predominantly white institutions. When asked what “college students should know how to do” by the time they graduate, each author provided their own insight:

“By the time you get out of college, I think you should know how to think for yourself,” Gay responded, explaining the importance of forming opinions independent of others. “And then not only to have that opinion, but to articulate it.”

Laymon agreed and added that he wished he had learned how to relate his own self, in particular his body, to his collegiate education. “What I did was pat myself on the back for knowing the words. ... What I did not do was think about what my relationship to those words [was].”

Both authors concluded by mentioning their upcoming projects. Gay’s new novel How to Be Heard will come out on November 16, and she is currently starting her own literary imprint and adapting a three-season television show that “will hopefully be streaming next year.” Laymon similarly has kept busy, becoming involved in television and film and anticipating the release of his book Long Division on June 1, along with two more books to be released in 2022.

Gay is the author of Bad Feminist, Hunger: A Memoir of My Body, An Untamed State, and Difficult Women. She is a contributing op-ed writer for The New York Times and the first Black woman to ever write for Marvel. Laymon is the bestselling author of Heavy: An American Memoir and How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America. He is the Hubert H. McAlexander Chair of English at the University of Mississippi and recipient of the 2020-21 Radcliffe Fellowship at Harvard.

The lecture was sponsored by the Winton J. Tolles Lecture Fund and hosted by Hamilton’s Literature and Creative Writing Department. The Tolles lecture was established in 1991 by members of the Class of 1951 in memory of Winton Tolles, Class of 1928 and dean of the College from 1947 to 1972. The fund allows Hamilton to bring to campus distinguished speakers in the fields of literature, journalism, and theater to lecture and meet with students.

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