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Inciting Joy: Essays

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Notes From Black Reads

We’ve always been fans of poets bearing witness to the heavy that surrounds us each day. It’s their economy of words that cuts to the chase of what weighs on our hearts. Ross Gay returns to the essay format to let us know that joy is needed now. He also reminds us, it’s never gone anywhere. But still, this is a book for this moment. A beautiful manual for the heart.

“BRILLIANT.” —Ada Limón, U.S. poet laureate

An intimate and electrifying collection of essays from the New York Times bestselling author of The Book of Delights.

A Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2022


In these gorgeously written and timely pieces, prizewinning poet and author Ross Gay considers the joy we incite when we care for each other, especially during life’s inevitable hardships. Throughout Inciting Joy, he explores how we can practice recognizing that connection, and also, crucially, how we can expand it.

In “We Kin,” Gay thinks about the garden (especially around August, when the zucchini and tomatoes come in) as a laboratory of mutual aid; in “Share Your Bucket,” he explores skateboarding’s reclamation of public spaces; he considers the costs of masculinity in “Grief Suite”; and in “Through My Tears I Saw,” he recognizes what was healed in caring for his father as he was dying.

In an era when divisive voices take up so much airspace, Inciting Joy offers a vital alternative: What might be possible if we turn our attention to what brings us together, to what we love?

Taking a clear-eyed look at injustice, political polarization, and the destruction of the natural world, Gay shows us how we might resist, how the study of joy might lead us to a wild, unpredictable, transgressive, and unboundaried solidarity. In fact, it just might help us survive.

ISBN-13: 9781643753041

Media Type: Hardcover

Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill

Publication Date: 10-25-2022

Pages: 256

Product Dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.00(d)

Ross Gay is the New York Times bestselling author of The Book of Delights: Essays and four books of poetry. His Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude won the 2015 National Book Critics Circle Award and the 2016 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award, and was a finalist for the National Book Award; and Be Holding won the 2021 PEN America Jean Stein Book 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.

Table of Contents

The First Incitement 1

Through My Tears I Saw (Death: The Second Incitement) 11

We Kin (The Garden: The Third Incitement) 28

Out of Time (Time: The Fourth Incitement) 43

Share Your Bucket! (Skateboarding: The Fifth Incitement) 57

Baby, This Might Be You, (Laughter: The Sixth Incitement) 66

(Dis)alienation Machinery (Losing Your Phone: The Seventh Incitement) 82

Free Fruit for All! (The Orchard: The Eighth Incitement) 94

Insurgent Hoop (Pickup Basketball: The Ninth Incitement) 112

How Big the Boat (The Cover: The Tenth Incitement) 123

Dispatch from the Ruins (School: The Eleventh Incitement) 137

Went Free (Dancing: The Twelfth Incitement) 171

Grief Suite (Failing Apart: The Thirteenth Incitement) 176

Oh, My Heart (Gratitude: The Fourteenth Incitement) 230

Acknowledgments 246