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Gallaudet University Press
From Carnival to the Canon
“The moment when a society must contend with a powerful language other than its own is a decisive point in its evolution. This moment is occurring now in American society.” Cynthia Peters explains precisely how American Sign Language (ASL) literature achieved this moment by tracing its past and predicting its future in Deaf American Literature: From Carnival to the Canon. Peters connects ASL literature to the literary canon with the archetypal notion of carnival as “the counterculture of the dominated.” Throughout history, carnivals have been opportunities for the “low,” disenfranchised elements of society to displace their “high” counterparts. Citing the Deaf community’s long tradition of “literary nights” and festivals like the Deaf Way, Peters recognizes similar forces at work in the propagation of ASL literature. The agents of this movement, Deaf artists and ASL performers—“Tricksters,” as Peters calls them—jump between the two cultures and languages. Through this process, they create a synthesis of English literary content reinterpreted in sign language, which raises the profile of ASL as a distinct art form in itself. In this trailblazing study, Peters applies her analysis to the craft’s landmark works, including Douglas Bullard’s novel Islay and Ben Bahan’s video-recorded narrative Bird of a Different Feather. Deaf American Literature, the only work of its kind, is its own seminal moment in the emerging discipline of ASL literary criticism.
This new anthology showcases the works of Deaf writers during a critical formative period in their history. From 1830 to 1930, these writers conveyed their impressions in autobiographies, travel narratives, romances, nonfiction short stories, editorials, descriptive pieces, and other forms of prose. The quick, often evocative snapshots and observations featured here, many explicitly addressing deafness and sign language, reflect their urgency to record Deaf American life at this pivotal time. Using sensory details, dialogue, characterization, narrative movement, and creative prose, these writers emphasized the capabilities of Deaf people to counter events that threatened their way of life. The volume opens with “The Orphan Mute,” a sentimental description of the misfortune of deaf people written by John Robertson Burnet in 1835. Less than 50 years later, James Denison, the only Deaf delegate at the 1880 Convention of Instructors of the Deaf in Milan, published his “impressions” that questioned the majority’s passage of a strict oralism agenda. In 1908, Thomas Flowers wrote “I was a little human plant,” a paean to education without irony despite the concurrent policy banning African Americans from attending Gallaudet College. These and a host of other Deaf writers—Laurent Clerc, Kate Farlow, Edmund Booth, Laura Redden Searing, Freda W. Bauman, Vera Gammon, Isaac H. Benedict, James Nack, John Carlin, Joseph Mount and many more—reveal the vitality and resilience of Deaf writers in an era of wrenching change.
In Deaf life, the personal narrative holds sway because most Deaf individuals recall their formative years as solitary struggles to understand and to be understood. Few deaf people in the past related their stories in written form, relying instead on a different kind of “oral” tradition, that of American Sign Language. During the last several decades, however, a burgeoning bilingual deaf experience has ignited an explosion of Deaf writing that has pushed the potential of ASL-influenced English to extraordinary creative heights. Deaf American Prose: 1980–2010 presents a diverse cross-section of stories, essays, memoirs, and novel excerpts by a remarkable cadre of Deaf writers that mines this rich, bilingual environment. The works in Deaf American Prose frame the Deaf narrative in myriad forms: Tom Willard sends up hearing patronization in his wicked satire “What Exactly Am I Supposed to Overcome?” Terry Galloway injects humor in “Words,” her take on the identity issues of being hard of hearing rather than deaf or hearing. Other contributors relate familiar stories about familiar trials, such as Tonya Stremlau’s account of raising twins, and Joseph Santini’s short story of the impact on Deaf and hearing in-laws of the death of a son. The conflicts are well-known and heartfelt, but with wrinkles directly derived from the Deaf perspective. Several of the contributors expand the Deaf affect through ASL glosses and visual/spatial elements. Sara Stallard emulates ASL on paper through its syntax and glosses, and by eliminating English elements, a technique used in dialogue by Kristen Ringman and others. Deaf American Prose features the work of other well-known contemporary Deaf writers, including co-editor Kristen Harmon, Christopher Jon Heuer, Raymond Luczak, and Willy Conley. The rising Deaf writers presented here further distinguish the first volume in this new series by thinking in terms of what they can bring to English, not what English can bring to them.
This collection presents 14 essays by renowned scholars on Deaf people, Deafhood, Deaf histories, and Deaf identity, but from different points of view on the Deaf/Disability compass. Editors Susan Burch and Alison Kafer have divided these works around three themes. The first, Identities and Locations, explores Deaf identity in different contexts. Topics range from a history of activism shaped by the ableism of Deaf elites in the United States from 1880–1920, to a discussion of the roles that economics, location, race, and culture play in the experiences of a Deaf woman from northern Nigeria now living in Washington, D.C. Alliances and Activism showcases activisim organized across differences. Studies include a feminist analysis of how deaf and hearing women working together share responsibility, and an examination of how intra-cultural variations in New York City and Quebec affect deaf-focused HIV/AIDS programs. The third theme, Boundaries and Overlaps, explicitly addresses the relationships between Deaf Studies and Disability Studies. Interviews with scholars from both disciplines help define these relationships. Another contributor calls for hearing/not-deaf people with disabilities to support their Deaf peers in gaining language access to the United Nations. Deaf and Disability Studies: Interdisciplinary Perspectives reveals that different questions often lead to contrary conclusions among their authors, who still recognize that they all have a stake in this partnership.
Living the Life
Most stories about disabled people are written for the sake of being inspirational. These stories tend to focus on some achievement, such as a sports or academics, but rarely do they give a true and complete view of the challenges individuals must deal with on a daily basis. For example: How does a deaf-blind person interact with hearing-sighted people at a family reunion? How does she shop for groceries? What goes through his mind when he enters a classroom full of non-handicapped peers? These aren’t questions you are likely to find answers to while reading that incredible tale of success. They are, however, issues that a deaf-blind person wishes others understood. Deaf–Blind Reality: Living the Life explores what life is really like for persons with a combination of vision and hearing loss, and in a few cases, other disabilities as well. Editor Scott M. Stoffel presents extensive interviews with 12 deaf-blind individuals, including himself, who live around the world, from Missouri to New Zealand, Louisiana to South Africa, and Ohio to England. These contributors each describe their families’ reactions and the support they received; their experiences in school and entering adulthood; and how they coped with degeneration, ineffective treatments, and rehabilitation. Each discusses their personal education related to careers, relationships, and communication, including those with cochlear implants. Deaf–Blind Reality offers genuine understanding of the unspectacular, but altogether daunting challenges of daily life for deaf-blind people.
To learn how Chinese parents raise their deaf children, Alison Callaway in 1994 conducted extensive research in the city of Nanjing. There, she interviewed the parents of 26 deaf children while also carefully analyzing a large collection of letters written by other parents to the supervisor of a nursery school that was the center of her research. She also made fact-finding visits to several other schools and programs for deaf preschoolers, and had discussions with teachers, administrators, and staff members. The results of her study form the remarkable body of information presented in Deaf Children in China. Callaway crafted a comprehensive interview with 133 questions, 106 of which were strictly factual while 27 asked parents for their views, attitudes, reactions, and perceptions concerning various issues. Through detailed background analysis, she was able to enhance her interpretations through a balanced assessment of the cultural influences in China, such as the role of the family and the government's “one-child” policy. Although she speaks Chinese and is raising her Chinese son, she consciously monitored with even greater care any potential biases from her own Western antecedents that might affect her research. Deaf Children in China provides a striking profile of the views and attitudes of well-educated Chinese parents with preschool-age deaf children. Callaway's inclusion of a survey of 122 English mothers of deaf children reveals the differences between Western and Chinese parents, who rely upon grandparents to help them and who frequently search for medical cures. Yet, she also discovered that many issues cross cultures and contexts, especially the problems of achieving early diagnosis and intervention for all deaf children, and optimizing early development of language in deaf children of hearing parents. Her pioneering work will fascinate and enlighten readers invested in the development of deaf children for years to come.
Placement, Context, and Consequences
Peters connects ASL literature to the literary canon with the archetypal notion of carnival as “the counterculture of the dominated.” Throughout history, carnivals have been opportunities for the “low,” disenfranchised elements of society to displace their “high” counterparts. Citing the Deaf community’s long tradition of “literary nights” and festivals like the Deaf Way, Peters recognizes similar forces at work in the propagation of ASL literature. The agents of this movement, Deaf artists and ASL performers—“Tricksters,” as Peters calls them—jump between the two cultures and languages. Through this process, they create a synthesis of English literary content reinterpreted in sign language, which raises the profile of ASL as a distinct art form in itself.
Voices of Children from Inclusion Settings
In this trailblazing study, Peters applies her analysis to the craft’s landmark works, including Douglas Bullard’s novel Islay and Ben Bahan’s video-recorded narrative Bird of a Different Feather. Deaf American Literature, the only work of its kind, is its own seminal moment in the emerging discipline of ASL literary criticism.