Thursday, July 06, 2006

Is There a Disability Culture Writing?

June 2006’s issue of Breath & Shadow has taken an unprecedented step and, in an editorial the size of a novella, tried to thrash out the question of whether there is anything that can be called disability culture writing and, if so, what it is. The editorial takes the form of a virtual round table among the editorial staff.

Editor Sharon Wachsler contributes some interesting observations culled from both her role at B&S and her personal experiences as a writer with and without a disability. One thing Wachsler notes is that there appear to be a loose core of characteristics that differentiate the work of writers who have had lifelong disabilities from those who have acquired disabilities in early adulthood. The writings of those with acquired disabilities tend to have a greater a sense of outrage and frustration and, having grown up non-disabled, feel a greater sense of entitlement to freedom and independence. By contrast, those with lifelong disabilities, while also showing frustration, more readily embrace their disability and identify with the disabled community. The writings often reflect a disability pride.

Wachsler also observes another division in the work she receives. The bulk of the poetry seems to come from writers with a mental illness whereas much more fiction comes from writers with physical disabilities. This last observation, if true, may have some grounding in the nature of poetry as opposed to fiction. Fiction writers Anne Finger and Noria Jablonski, both point out that poetry is often a very individualistic and self-referential form of expression whereas fiction demands that the writer put themself in the role of others, if only to be able to develop characters. Despite the fact that the field of disability literature is dominated by poetry and life narrative writing, it may be easier for a writer with a physical disability (especially one present since early life) to be able to put themselves into the minds of a number of characters, than it would be for a person working against mental illness.

So grab a pint of Guinness, set aside some time and mull over this latest offering from Breath & Shadow. You may not agree with them (they don't even agree with each other), but Wachsler and her posse – Chris Kuell, John Allen and Paul Kahn – have given us something to think about.


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July 17, 2006  

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