“Joy Is What Emerges From Connection” – Q&A with Author Ross Gay

Perennial AF

Ross Gay is an award-winning author and creative-writing professor who has published four books of poetry—Against Which; Bringing the Shovel Down; Be Holding, and Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude—and three collections of essays: The Book of Delights, Inciting Joy, and The Book of (More) Delights. He is a founding board member of the Bloomington Community Orchard, a non-profit, free-fruit-for-all food justice and joy project.

As a keynote speaker at the 2023 Perennial Farm Gathering, Ross Gay read from his book Inciting Joy and responded to questions from attendees. The conversation was moderated by Indiana farmer and agroforestry mentor Liz Brownlee of Nightfall Farm

Transcript has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Ross Gay: Joy is what emerges from us. I think it’s the feeling we have when we are practicing our connection. Which is why joy happens as often at a funeral as it does at a birth. It’s the practice of connection through which we enter into joy.

The reason we’re gathering is actually to tend to each other’s needs. I wonder if that’s part of our practice. And part of my need is a need to share this. ‘I wrote this thing.’ But I do feel like the older I’m getting, the more it’s like, if we come with our needs, more things might be possible.

Liz Brownlee: Yeah. I think we give each other permission to need. My husband and I both just had COVID right before our turkey butcher day, and turkey distribution is this huge crunch for us. And so we reached out and asked other farmer friends in the area for help with our turkey pickup days. We were over COVID, but we were still so tired. And our brains weren’t really functioning. We needed help with, like, math.

I was so embarrassed to have to ask for help. And as soon as I sent those texts, I felt like, ‘oh, we’d have been fine, I shouldn’t have’. But it was beautiful [having their help.] I think my hope is that next time they need help, they might ask or feel a little more safe asking.

Ross Gay: That’s exactly it. Yeah. And just to sort of join with you, I was somewhat down two or three books back, and stuff just happened and I was like, ‘I gotta ask for help on this stuff.’ And I was talking to my partner about it — who I’ve been with for like 17 years, you know, so she knows me — and, she was like, she almost started to cry. Because she was like ‘oh that’s different for you’. And those are things that we got to practice. You know, it’s not like we just necessarily know how to ask for help. But I agree that when we do it then we’re like, ‘oh yeah, this is the ground of our gathering’. This need that we have for one another.