Ross Gay

Poet Ross Gay reads from his recent collection, “The Book of Delights,” during this week’s Wilkinson Public Library virtual event. (Courtesy photo)

Looking for more delight in your life? Look no further than Wilkinson Public Library’s two-part series with poet Ross Gay, author of the award-winning “The Book of Delights.” The book’s 102 essayettes (some as short as one paragraph) were written throughout a year in which Gay made a daily practice of writing by hand with a vividly purple pen about things that delighted him.

When Joanna Spindler, adult programs specialist at the Wilkinson Public Library, heard Gay interviewed about it on “This American Life,” she was deeply moved.

“I spent the whole episode laughing and going misty-eyed by turns, and then immediately went online and put a library hold on the book,” she said.

“The Book of Delights” is filled with curiosity and enchantment as well as longing and loss. Gay’s lyrical prose flows to topics as wide ranging as songs, nicknames, lychee fruit, sidewalk naps and toddlers. Delight starts to find him everywhere. Ross describes developing his “delight muscle” finding “that the more you study delight, the more there is to study.” Five months into the project, Ross’s delight muscle has become so strong that he must spend an essay listing off his long backlog of delights that he has not yet written about in order to clear his awareness for the all delight yet to come.

“The Book of Delights” is also a book about community. Gay vibrantly and attentively celebrates all of the “ways we make each other possible.” Early on in the pandemic, Gay observed anew the profundity of community caring in a piece he wrote for the New York Times called, “The Joy of Caring for Others.” He was struck by how we were navigating, “the reaching toward while staying away dance” and the luminous emergent forms of care he saw people demonstrating for one another despite the sorrow.

The library hopes Gay’s perspective on the ways we enable each other through acts of caring will feel freshly relevant to patrons cultivating community resilience during the pandemic. The series, which begins Friday, is uniquely structured to allow participants to come together and practice writing in a caring community. Attendees will get to hear Gay speak at the first event and then spend a week writing their own mini-pieces about things they find delightful. At the second event the following Friday, March 26, writers can share their work in an inclusive space; a virtual community of delight.

Though the book’s message is uplifting, Gay does not shy away from probing themes of tragedy and injustice. As an African-American, Gay shares his experiences of being a Black man in America today. In one essay, he explores how we are willing to overlook the undertones of racism and sexism in the band Toto’s legacy because we love their songs.

“It's powerful to see how, as a Black poet, Ross leans into race dynamics right along with lighter stories. It’s a very timely book as our community has been reading and studying a lot of social justice works and re-examining our relationships to race and antiracism,” Spindler said.

Gay also speaks to the solidarity of “blackness.” For example, the tenderness he feels when an African-American flight attendant warmly taps his arm after giving him his drink.

Gay’s virtual visit is part of a vast array of online programs on offer from the library, which patrons have been appreciating.

“Being able to meet with amazing authors, speakers and teachers while in the comfort of our own homes has been a quiet revolution in feeling more connected with our world during an isolating time.” Spindler said.

While the library staff will be working with the county health department to safely bring back in-person programs as soon as possible, they plan to host online and hybrid programs (with in-person and online components) for now. Online events offer patrons the opportunity to connect with presenters who would otherwise not have availability to come to Telluride. They also create a smaller carbon footprint, something the library’s Green Team supports.

Gay himself loves all things green, as he is a prolific gardener and lover of nature; an identity he celebrates in many of his essayettes. He is also a founding board member of the Bloomington Community Orchard, a nonprofit free-fruit-for-all food justice and joy project. With the arrival of spring, the library’s two-part series empowers community members to plant seeds of delight in their own minds and connect joyfully with others. As Gay puts it in his book, “in trying to articulate what, perhaps, joy is, it has occurred to me that among other things — the trees and mushrooms have shown me this — joy is the mostly invisible, the underground union between us, you and me.”

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