Courtesy of Jay Grabiec

Author and visiting Yale English Prof. Roxane Gay, pictured here in 2014, said Monday that she was "very serious" about wanting to speak at Cornell's convocation in May after comedian Hasan Minhaj reportedly dropped out.

April 16, 2019

Author Roxane Gay Offers to Fill Cornell Convocation Speaker Vacancy: ‘I Would Love to Do This’

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Roxane Gay to Cornell: I’m available.

The best-selling author and visiting Yale University professor said Monday that she’d be happy to fill the void left by comedian Hasan Minhaj and speak at senior convocation.

“I’ll hook you up,” Gay wrote to Cornellians on Twitter in response to The Sun’s report that Minhaj had cancelled on students just hours before he was to be announced as convocation speaker.

Gay is a presidential visiting fellow at Yale, a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times and a prolific tweeter, among other roles. Some students wondered: Does she actually want the Cornell gig?

“I was very serious,” Gay wrote in an email to The Sun on Monday evening, exemplifying her zeal by replying to a reporter in just seven minutes. “I would love to do this.”

Gay said she had not yet heard from anyone at Cornell — “sadly.”

Leaders of the Convocation Committee cited their confidentiality agreement in declining to comment on whether they are considering Gay. The committee convened Sunday night and is seeking a replacement for Minhaj for the May 25 graduation weekend event.

The committee solicited 1,200 names from members last semester and narrowed them down to form a ranked list of 25 people viewed as successful, relatable and charismatic.

Minhaj, the host of Netflix’s Patriot Act, “breached contract” by dropping out Thursday as Cornell’s celebrity convocation speaker, according to sources and internal committee messages. Minhaj’s publicist has not responded to requests for comment and Cornell has not answered a list of questions.

The morning tweet from Roxane Gay, pictured here at an event in California in 2018, racked up more than 500 likes and earned some replies from hopeful Cornellians.

Courtesy of the Berkeley Center for New Media

The morning tweet from Roxane Gay, pictured here at an event in California in 2018, racked up more than 500 likes and earned some replies from hopeful Cornellians.

Asked what she would tell graduating seniors if she were to take the lectern at Schoellkopf Field, Gay gave a brief preview: “I would talk about how if we don’t start giving each other the benefit of the doubt, and really listening to each other, we are truly doomed to repeat the mistakes of history. But funny.”

Gay’s works include Bad Feminist, a 2014 collection of essays, and Hunger, a memoir published in 2017 that focuses on trauma, food and weight. She has more than 500,000 Twitter followers, and her morning tweet about Cornell racked up more than 500 likes and some replies from hopeful Cornellians.

“I teach your writing every semester in my freshman comp and intro creative writing classes,” lecturer Emily Rosello Mercurio MFA ’18 wrote on Twitter. “You would be a phenomenal choice for convocation!”

Gay isn’t the only person who spotted an opportunity in Minhaj’s wake. In response to the report of the comedian’s cancellation, Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick ’09 wrote on Twitter: “Fine, I’ll do it.”

Myrick spoke to Ithaca High School seniors in 2014 about the importance of living lives of which they can be proud.

Previous Cornell convocation speakers include movie director Ava DuVernay, who told seniors last spring that they should seek to direct their own life stories, and former vice president Joe Biden, who munched on Cornell Dairy ice cream after imploring the Class of 2017 to make its mark on the world.