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Writer Roxane Gay speaks at the University of North Texas as part of their Fine Arts Series on Thursday, Sept. 5, 2019 in the UNT Coliseum.

Minutes after being introduced to hundreds of people inside of the University of North Texas Coliseum, author Roxane Gay launched into the story of the first time she ate an edible laced with marijuana.

Gay intertwined the humor of calling the police for being too high with the cultural realities of eating pot in 2018. She also addressed the injustice of her getting high legally while thousands of people remain in jail for selling what she ate, to how being raised by a mother who didn’t drink alcohol or do drugs impacted her perceptions of weed. And this led her to calling the cops for being too high.

“Then I was in the hospital, and then the nurses were laughing at my because I was in the hospital for a bad trip,” she said while reading from a short story during Thursday night’s event. “Then I spent two nights in the hospital and I was still high when I left. The lesson of this is never do drugs, kids.”

Gay has penned several national bestsellers, including Bad Feminist and Hunger: A Memoir of My Body, and is a prolific writer, columnists and cultural critic. Her appearance at UNT was the first event for the Mary Jo and V. Lane Rawlins Fine Arts Series, an annual series that brings writers, artists and activists to campus.

After reading her story about edibles and one about her nemeses, Gay spent an hour answering questions from audience members, who included students and community members. One woman said she was a professor of feminist studies at Southwestern University in Georgetown and had driven three of her students with her to attend the reading and Q&A to learn about how to better write and speak about deeply personal topics.

Roxane Gay

Roxane Gay

“It’s important to have boundaries,” Gay said in response, “You have to be able to know what you will and will not disclose, and once you have those boundaries and you stick to those — no matter what happens — you’re going to be able to handle it.” She detailed a class on writing about trauma that she taught earlier this year.

Gay, a longtime English professor, has spent time at Eastern Illinois University, Purdue University and most recently Yale University. Her insights into academia shaped many students’ questions, which ranged from how to handle rejections and edits to how to boost confidence in the classroom when everyone else seems to know everything already.

She also offered advice for budding writers, sexual violence survivors and future political activists, offering words of affirmation and validation.

“I think it’s really important for you to tell yourself that I’m allowed to be in the world as I am, I am allowed to be imperfect in this world,” Gay said. “As long as you recognize that imperfection is not a free lease to treat people badly — it’s just a way of recognizing that I don’t have to be everything to everyone at all times.”

The fine arts series will also continue later this fall with an exhibition of artwork by Vernon Fisher, a former UNT art professor, next month.

JENNA DUNCAN can be reached at 940-566-6889 and via Twitter at @jennafduncan.

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