Literacies Circle: Vulnerable Writing

Over the past few months and especially over the holidays, people have asked me about how my next book was going or even if I was writing another book.

I always explain -briefly- that I’m working on a collection of essays about a search for stories in light of my deafness. Stories that people share in groups, such as around campfires, at a table at the pub, in a blueberry patch, during a book club, and even while partaking in a workplace conference on race and racism.

Photo of yellow fabric-covered story board with small tacked notes and large sheets of paper covered with post-it notes.

I explained that, currently, the hardest part was figuring out a good structure. And that perhaps I might not continue the project after all. But also, that I am in good communication with an acquisition editor.

I. Did. Not. Ask. For. Advice.

No matter, the advice, based on stereotypes that just won’t go away, started immediately. A deaf adult becomes like a child who needs to be explicitly told about the challenges of writing.   

You know that deaf people are not very good writers.

I know spelling, like pronouncing words correctly, is hard for deaf people. Writing will take a lot of your time. Are you sure you want to do this? Think about your daughter.

How you think about your deafness is not true, things you talk about happen to all of us.

No one is going to believe you. You will need to back yourself up with references. Or maybe you should consider writing fiction.

Be sure to not to go down the pity path.

Make sure you don’t sound defensive.

Make sure you don’t sound angry.

There are no other deaf people who can read as well as you do. Why write it?

Why would even a hearing person want to read it?

Don’t make hearing people feel guilty like black people are trying to make white people guilty.

No wonder writing is a vulnerable endeavor! The things some people say to discourage writing from a different perspective or worldview.

On the other hand, a few supportive friends remarked that some of my stories were enlightening, in that they never thought about what it is like to be deaf in everyday situations. And that if an individual felt guilty, they may have a reason to feel guilty whether they understand their feelings of guilt or not. But much of the time, authors write not about individuals being overtly racist, misogynist, or ableist,* but about the systems and structures in our society that are in place benefiting only one group of peoples.

Most writers reflecting on lived experiences

do not

set out to push guilt,

but to foster strength, understanding, empathy, hope, and freedom.

In a literacies circle, and especially during times that feel unstable, how do we see our writers, young and old, as having valid stories to tell and reflect on? And how do we support our readers to bear witness to such stories?

(*And every time these words sit side by side, I make it clear that the feelings resulting from microaggression, marginalization, and discrimination may be universal but that identities of race, gender, sexuality, and abilities absolutely do not entail the same experiences.)

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