Zibby speaks to New York Times bestselling author Ross Gay about THE BOOK OF MORE DELIGHTS, a charming collection of miniature essays as quirky, engaging, and wryly humorous as his previous book of delights. Ross describes how his project of writing an essay every day for a year about things that delight him has evolved, and then he and Zibby chat about the joy found in daily assignments and the significance of the writing process in understanding questions about sorrow and joy. Finally, Ross reveals what he is working on now.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Ross. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss The Book of (More) Delights, your latest book.

Ross Gay: Awesome. Glad to be here.

Zibby: I was just holding up The Book of Delights, The Book of (More) Delights, and Inciting Joy. That’s only a piece of the puzzle. Tell us about The Book of (More) Delights. I know you talk in the book about how you decided to wait. You had a whole plan for when you would write it and everything. Tell listeners a little bit about that.

Ross: It’s a follow-up to another book called The Book of Delights, which I wrote between August 1st of 2016 and August 1st of 2017. Toward the end of it — I think I talk about this in the introduction to The Book of (More) Delights. Let me just say what that book was. Basically, the premise of the book was that I decided, or it almost feels like it was decided for me, that I would write an essay every single day for a year about something that delighted me. I gave myself three very simple constraints. The first one was to do it every day, which I almost did. The second one was to write them by hand. The third one was to do it quickly. I gave myself about thirty minutes to draft all of these essays for the first book. I took those constraints to the second book as well. When I finished the first book, my buddy, the writer Patrick Rosal — we were actually at a writing retreat together. He was like, “So do you think you’re going to keep doing them or what?” I decided, I don’t know if right then, but thereabouts, that I would probably want to do it again just to see what it looked like. I love long, over-time serial projects. There’s a painter named Robert Motherwell who made a bunch of paintings called Elegy to the Spanish Republic over, I think decades, he was doing it. There’s a writer named Anne Waldman. She has this project called The Iovis Project, I think it’s called. It’s over a long period of time. I’m very interested in that, the idea of, what would it be like to do this years and years, maybe decades, project of considering delight? That’s what it is.

Zibby: Wow. When you did the first book, were there things that came out of it that you weren’t expecting? I would expect that you would find a newfound appreciation of life and the small things and the big things. What else came out of that? Did you miss journaling, essentially, when you finished that year?

Ross: There is something sweet about having the express and explicit obligation or task or duty, in a way, that you give yourself. Every day, you’re going to write, spend thirty minutes observing and contemplating and wondering about, ultimately, what it is you love. There’s something very sweet, more than sweet, organizing, in a way, to that. I definitely felt a little bit like, that’s a loss. I don’t know if a loss, or at least a sort of directive to continue considering that in other aspects of my writing life and my otherwise life as well.

Zibby: It’s always nice having an assignment. I kind of miss school.

Ross: I hated school. I hated school, but I like being coached. I like being coached.

Zibby: Different sides of the same coin, in a way.

Ross: Totally.

Zibby: Then Inciting Joy came in between. Tell me about that.

Ross: Inciting Joy, it came out very quickly, actually, the book. I don’t know if this is quite right, but I felt — I try to think of when I sat down and started writing. It may have been watching an Atlanta Hawks game in the bubble when they were playing in that. They called it the bubble during the lockdown times. If I have this right. Maybe the Hawks had MLK on their jersey. There was some kind of something that I felt about the immediate appropriation, the capitalistic appropriation — actually, we’re doing this on the 16th — appropriation of who was fundamentally a radical figure. There was some way that I felt. That’s one of the origin stories of that book. Not the only one. I felt like, I want to write these essays that consider this deep question, which is, what does it mean in the face of that, in the face of what I think of as a kind of obscene appropriation of the advocacy of life which MLK and all these other people represent? It was MLK at the moment that I was thinking of. I decided it would be a fun project to write all of these essays about these aspects of my own life that do two things. I wanted to consider what incites joy. I used that word very intentionally. What incites joy? By joy, in the book, I define it as something along the lines of the feeling that we enter when we help each other carry our sorrows. What incites joy? What does that joy incite? Those are the questions of that book. I consider, pick up basketball. I consider gardening. I consider school. I consider dancing. I consider my father’s death and some other things. That’s the premise of that book. Those essays are much, not always, but most of — the longest one is sixty pages. Whereas the longest delight, it’s going to be maybe five pages.

Zibby: You talked in Inciting Joy about someone coming over and visiting when your father was ill and what that whole period of time was like. What do you do with a sorrow like that? How do you turn it into prose properly? What does it do for you once you’ve done that?

Ross: It’s a great question. I don’t know exactly. Part of the desire for me as a writer is to have an opportunity to think very deeply about a question. Obviously, sorrow is a question that allows itself to be considered, contemplated on and on and on, just as joy is. To me, joy is not something that is absent sorrow or that is the opposite of sorrow or that is without sorrow. Joy is very much made of sorrow. Among the things that, meditating very deeply about or considering very deeply or writing through — writing is the consideration of these things. It allows me to more fully understand the questions, to maybe more fully be able to articulate the questions. It also is this moment where I get to sort of witness myself in the process of changing. That’s what’s interesting. The older I get, the more I think that’s one of the most moving experiences of writing, is that I’m witnessing myself change. As I come to understand or have a different relationship to something, it is much more that thing of, in the process of this consideration, if you are true with it, you will, in fact, be a different person. Your creatureliness, which is to say your always-changing-ness, will be made available to you.

Zibby: Interesting. My nineth-grade English teacher was like, “A great book is the illustration of change.”

Ross: That’s kind of right.

Zibby: I know.

Ross: He got it right.

Zibby: At the time, I was like, really? Let me find another example that goes against that.

Ross: I think very often, school wants us to imagine that the objective is to become fixed and to be able to impose a notion. An essay imposes a kind of truth. I’m not interested in being that as a writer or a person. I don’t want to be interested. If I am interested in that, I’m trying not to be interested in that. What I want to be interested in is being the loving witness to my change and other people’s change. That happens in poems often. It happens in essays often.

Zibby: You spend time reflecting on your own life, illustrating all of that, writing it. Now your life, undoubtedly, has changed from the success of your own career writing the stuff. What has that all done to the way you look at things? Is it something that you expected, to really have things hit the way that they have?

Ross: No, not at all. Not at all. When I say that that Book of Delights was sort of offered to me, I mean that I was walking — I was actually in Umbertide in Italy. I was at another writing retreat thing, artist retreat. I was walking home through these beautiful fields, sunflower fields. Birds were singing. Honeybees were humming. I caught myself in a moment of delight. When I thought I should write an essay about this — I say that it was sort of instructed. I was given to the task of writing about it every day for a year. That was given to me. It sort of arrived. Part of the arrival was like, this will be useful. This will be an interesting question for people, including this person first and foremost. First and foremost, me. That’s a long way of saying I both didn’t know, but I also knew that there was a deeply pressing question inside of that thing. The question being something like, what happens when you contemplate what you love?

Zibby: If you were to write an essay this morning, if you haven’t already — I don’t know, maybe you have. It’s five fifteen on the East Coast. Who knows? You could’ve written twenty essays by now. What would you contemplate today? What is something that happened today that would be worthwhile of an essay or that had joy or delight in it?

Ross: I could tell you about stacking the firewood. It’s very cold here. Very small detail of organizing with my partner, a little bit on behalf of my partner to keep her warm. That might be a thing. Watching my cat — not my cat. Watching the cat we live with stretch out in the sun. Really beautiful. Delightful. There’s others.

Zibby: Just listening to your delights puts me in a better mood. I’m serious. It’s very cold here too.

Ross: Where are you?

Zibby: I’m in New York City. You live in Bloomington, right? Don’t you?

Ross: Yeah.

Zibby: I have a novel coming out, and I’m coming there on my book tour.

Ross: Oh, sweet. Where are you going? To Morgenstern’s?

Zibby: Yes.

Ross: Awesome. Good bookstore.

Zibby: Someone else in the community reached out. They were like, there are great authors here, like Ross Gay. I was like, I’m interviewing him.

Ross: That’s great. Cool.

Zibby: What is in store after your epic tour and everything else coming up? What else are you working on for writing? Any more poetry and music and all of that?

Ross: I’m writing a book about my garden right now, the garden. Not my. It’s the garden. I am the gardens. I’m writing about that. I’ve been writing essays about basketball for a while, but a little bit more. I have a Substack in mind. I think some stuff will come up on that. I’ve got the poems I’m working on slowly, in the works. That’s some stuff.

Zibby: Amazing. How much time do you spend reading?

Ross: A lot. A lot.

Zibby: Hours? Daily? Hours? A little bit?

Ross: Depending on how much time I have, but I like to spend a lot of time reading, for sure.

Zibby: Are there books that have been sort of talismans for you your whole life that you take with you everywhere?

Ross: I have books that I will go back to often. It’s funny, I just ordered another copy of John Edgar Wideman’s Fatheralong. Wideman is one of my most important writers, for sure. I just reread a book by the writer Elaine Scarry called On Beauty and Being Just. Really beautiful book. I go back to Beloved every few years. I might just read sections of it from time to time. There’s a poet named Amiri Baraka whose work is always deeply sustaining and I go back to often. Have been a little bit extra lately. That’s a handful.

Zibby: That is a handful. recall. What advice would you have for aspiring authors?

Ross: I just think a really profound question is, what do you love? How can what you love be the engine of the inquiry that your writing is about? What do you love? Even if it’s like, yeah, I have a story I want to tell, what’s the love inside of that? Not only I think it’s a useful, important, and ethical way to proceed, but I think it’s probably sustaining to keep on being like, what do I love? What do I love? What do I love?

Zibby: It’s one of those things. Without stopping to reflect, you miss the best parts of life. You have to. That’s what it’s all about.

Ross: Exactly.

Zibby: Amazing. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.” Really appreciate it.

Ross: My pleasure. Good to talk to you.

Zibby: You too.

Ross: Take care.

THE BOOK OF (MORE) DELIGHTs:Essays by Ross Gay

Purchase your copy on Bookshop!

Share, rate, & review the podcast, and follow Zibby on Instagram @zibbyowens