Ross Gay’s The Book of Delights is a genre-defying book of essays—some as short as a paragraph; some as long as five pages—that record the small joys that occurred in one year, from birthday to birthday, and that we often overlook in our busy lives. His is a meditation on delight that takes a clear-eyed view of the complexities, even the terrors, in his life, including living in America as a black man; the ecological and psychic violence of our consumer culture; the loss of those he loves. Among Gay’s funny, poetic, philosophical delights: the way Botan Rice Candy wrappers melt in your mouth, the volunteer crossing guard with a pronounced tremor whom he imagines as a kind of boat-woman escorting pedestrians across the River Styx, a friend’s unabashed use of air quotes, pickup basketball games, the silent nod of acknowledgment between black people. And more than any other subject, Gay celebrates the beauty of the natural world—his garden, the flowers in the sidewalk, the birds, the bees, the mushrooms, the trees.
This is not a book of how-to or inspiration, though it could be read that way. Fans of Roxane Gay, Maggie Nelson, and Kiese Laymon will revel in Gay’s voice, and his insights. The Book of Delights is about our connection to the world, to each other, and the rewards that come from a life closely observed. Gay’s pieces serve as a powerful and necessary reminder that we can, and should, stake out a space in our lives for delight.
Ross Gay is the author of three books of poetry, including Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude, winner of the 2015 National Book Critics Circle Award and the 2016 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award. Catalog was also a finalist for the 2015 National Book Award in Poetry, the Ohioana Book Award, the Balcones Poetry Prize, the Hurston-Wright Legacy Award, and it was nominated for an NAACP Image Award. He is a founding board member of the Bloomington Community Orchard, a non-profit, free-fruit-for-all food justice and joy project. Gay has received fellowships from Cave Canem, the Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference, and the Guggenheim Foundation. He teaches at Indiana University.
Ross Gay appears in conversation with Dr. Eve L. Ewing, a sociologist of education and a writer from Chicago. She is the author of Ghosts in the Schoolyard: Racism and School Closings on Chicago's South Side. She is also author of Electric Arches, which received awards from the American Library Association and the Poetry Society of America and was named one of the year's best books by NPR and the Chicago Tribune. She is the co-author (with Nate Marshall) of the play No Blue Memories: The Life of Gwendolyn Brooks. She also writes the Ironheart series for Marvel Comics. Ewing is an assistant professor at the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration. Her work has been published in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New York Times, and many other venues.