Writing, Community & Government

Writer’s Workshop: Common Ground

Roxane Gay

Lesson time 11:04 min

In this writing workshop, Roxane works with Chanel, a writer working on an essay connecting two seemingly unrelated life experiences to speak to a deeper cultural issue.

Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars

Topics include: Chanel


[MUSIC PLAYING] - Readers connect to my writing in a lot of different ways. They tend to gravitate toward the vulnerability I express in a lot of my writing. I'm also someone who looks at a lot of different sides because I'm a Libra. I'm always interested in balance, and so I do try to acknowledge multiple points of view. I really prioritize complexity and nuance in my work, and readers connect to that, and I try to create a space for as many different kinds of people as possible to engage with my work. I do think, based on how I write, that it is important to find common ground because so many of the people I'm trying to reach don't share my subject position, don't know anyone who shares my subject position, and might find that level of difference disarming, but one of the things-- you know, one of the writers I have looked to throughout the years for inspiration is Audre Lorde, and Audre Lorde talks quite a lot about how difference is a strength. And so, by trying to find common ground with readers, I'm trying to use that idea of difference as strength, as something to be celebrated between us rather than to be treated as an obstacle, and so common ground can be useful. [MUSIC PLAYING] - Hi, Chanel. Welcome to the workshop. - Thank you. - I would love for you to tell us a little bit about yourself. - My name is Chanel, Chanel Piak. I am mixed race. So I'm British-Jamaican-- that's my mom's side-- and Icelandic. - Well, I was really interested to read your essay in which you do actually explore identity and race. - Yeah. - And before we get started, I would for you to read maybe the first page of your essay. - Yeah. Sure. - Excellent. - OK. So, my essay is called "A Girl, Her Dog, and Her Identity." I never thought I would own a dog. To be honest, I was terrified of dogs since the day when a labrador unexpectedly pounced on my younger sister after chasing us through the village park. It was a sunny Saturday afternoon in the South of England, where I grew up. I remember a rush of fear passing through me as well as guilt for not protecting my sister. Mom came over and barked at the dog's owner, scolding him for not containing this beast. After that, I always thought of dogs as wild creatures that I would never let into my home. A couple of years later, we relocated to Iceland, where my father is from. My sister and I weren't fluent in Icelandic for the first couple of months, but we did our best to make friends with the other Icelandic children. I remember feeling shy and afraid of using the little Icelandic I knew in case I was made fun of. On one of the first days of school, a classmate invited my sister and I to a house to see her new kittens. We tailed along in our new parkas that mom had bought from the Gap to make sure that we would acclimatize to the cold and unpredictable weather in Iceland. My classmate asked if we would like to hold one...

About the Instructor

Bestselling author, professor, and New York Times columnist Roxane Gay has connected to readers around the world with her unyielding truth-telling and highly personal feminism. In her MasterClass, she teaches you how to own your identity, hone your voice, write about trauma with care and courage, and navigate the publishing industry. Learn how to document and narrate the world as you see it—and then demand change.

Featured MasterClass Instructor

Roxane Gay

Bestselling author and cultural critic Roxane Gay teaches writing for social change and arms you with the skills needed to make an impact.

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