Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Fraudulent memoirs and disability

In the aftermath of the James Frey uproar, other stranger-than-fiction memoirs are turning out to be more fiction than fact. The latest such exposure reaches into the literature of disability: a Navajo author who wrote books about raising an adopted son with fetal alcohol syndrome, about caring for another adopted son with AIDS, and having other experiences with disability, turns out not to be Navajo, and not to have raised such sons. The LA Weekly has the whole sordid--really sordid--tale of deceit (thanks to Ralph Luker at Cliopatria for the tip on this one). Readers weren't the only ones fooled; "Nasdijj" the writer (aka Tim Barrus) won prestigious literary awards and glowing reviews in major newspapers. This scandal has a disability-blogging angle, too--apparently Barrus's wife ran an autism blog.

If you're interested in exploring more about disability and life-writing, you can't go wrong with G. Thomas Couser's books, Vulnerable Subjects: Ethics and Life Writing (Cornell University Press 2004), and Recovering Bodies: Illness, Disability, and Life Writing (University of Wisconsin Press 1997), or any of his journal articles on the same subject. If you've ever read a disability-themed biography or parenting memoir that felt somehow "wrong," Couser can probably explain why it had that effect, and then proceed to point out ten other ethical missteps in the book that maybe you hadn't caught.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

"A curious phenomenon"

Now ongoing, in New York City, NEUROfest, a series of theatre events (including plays, monologues, puppetry, a musical, and a full-length opera) on neurological topics (January 5-29); next month, in Liverpool, a one-day colloquium titled Autism and Representation, sponsored by the Association for Research in Popular Fictions (24 February), not to be confused with the Autism and Representation: Writing, Cognition, Disability conference at Case Western Reserve University last October. Then there's the publishing boom on autism topics, fiction and non-fiction, as described in a Guardian article last month by Sarah Adams, titled "A Curious Phenomenon," which asks, "So are we talking a whole new literary genre? Is autism the new crime fiction, the new chick lit, the new miscellany? Is there such a thing as 'spectrum publishing'?"

If the field of disability studies has given more attention to physical disability and less to cognitive disability in the past, it looks like that could be changing now. Hang on tight.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

January 16: Frances Browne (1816-1879)

Years and years ago there lived, in a certain town a poor old blind woman. All her friends and neighbours pitied her because she was poor and blind. But if they had only known it there was no need for pity. They might well have envied her instead, for this old woman had the gift of magic, and because of her magic her blind eyes could see farther and clearer than any other pair of eyes in all the town. She could see hidden things; the things of fairyland, and of the world beyond this.
--Katharine Pyle, Preface, Granny's Wonderful Chair and its Tales of Fairy Times by Frances Browne (1916 edition)
Irish children's author Frances Browne was born 16 January 1816, in Donegal. She became blind at eighteen months, in consequence of a bout with smallpox. As a child, she listened while her many siblings recited their school lessons, and gleaned vocabulary from church sermons. In her twenties, she began publishing poetry, with enough success to move herself and her sister to Edinburgh, then London in 1852. Besides her children's stories in Granny's Wonderful Chair and elsewhere, she wrote three novels in the 1860s.

For more on Browne:

Thomas McLean, "Arms and the Circassian Woman: Frances Browne's 'The Star of Atteghei,'" Victorian Poetry 41(3)(Fall 2003): 295-318.

Robert Dunbar, "Rarely Pure and Never Simple: The World of Irish Children's Literature," The Lion and the Unicorn 21(3)(September 1997): 309-321.

C. Nelson, "Art for Man's Sake: Frances Browne's Magic and Victorian Social Aesthetics," Bookbird 36(2)(1998): 19-?.

Monday, January 09, 2006

What you didn't see during the pre-show...

Richard Cohen Films has started an interesting new web feature, Newsreel Cinema Online--short documentary videos about disability, homelessness, and other overlooked subjects. The first one "What Happened Outside the 77th Academy Awards?" is now posted. (The audio includes some language that would not be work-safe in all environments.) I was there--at the back of the march, with my kids, and we were separated from the pack before the events depicted--so this was a chance, finally, to see what happened with the front of the group.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Disability Blogs Roundup, #6

And a happy new year!

Except if you're the manager of the Star nightclub on New York's Upper West Side--shouting "
You can't come in here, you're in a wheelchair" at a prospective partier is hardly festive. (Seems like New Yorkers are having enough access problems these days with the transit strike, anyway. And the city parks.) Not that Californians are behaving much better where access is concerned....Mary Johnson's been following the recent ADA controversy in Julian. Meanwhile in Oregon, schoolgirl Emily Lang needs to sell bracelets to raise money for a door to her own school...and Mary Johnson rightly asks, what about the school's responsibility? The parents' organization? The other students? "Why only her?" Katja at Broken Clay is looking for statistics to refute the ever-popular "I have never, ever seen a wheelchair passenger on the route" refrain. What do YOU say to that one? Planes aren't a much friendlier alternative for the chair user--not even if you wear your tiara, as it turns out.

Sigh. Out with the old and out-dated, please, and in with the shiny and new. There are always new-to-the-roundup blogs to note. Damon at Do Your Worst is having PA problems (a holiday-season epidemic, it seems); Eeka at One Smoot Short of a Bridge found the project's website fascinating (and you might, too: they're "documenting a current artistic project about the abandoned mental institutions of Massachusetts"); The Willa Woman patiently explains why "winter and wheelchairs do not mix." On the tech front, Gary at 6by7reports has an hour-long audio report on the World Congress and Exposition on Disabilities, a trade show recently held in Philadelphia.

And for some innovative winter technology, try the Trail Boss, or maybe the Snowpod. (And then when you get lost in the snowy wilderness, Scott Rains suggests this gadget.)

Got some big resolutions for 2006? Maybe you've promised yourself, "I'm going to find time for more serious literature." Well,
David Faucheux tipped readers off to the fine, fine service Librivox, which is a free audiobook service delivered by free download or by podcast. Site visitors are invited to volunteer; by reading public-domain texts, costs are minimized. This month: Dostoevsky's Notes from the Underground, with new segments available in various formats every Monday, Wednesday and Friday starting 2 January. There are plans for non-English-language reads soon, and the weekly poetry reading invitational also looks fun. Maybe you've decided to garden more--Gimpy Mumpy has the telescoping tools to make that more comfortable for many. Did you decide you need new ornaments for the tree next December? Firinel suggests making ASL salt-dough ornaments--better get started now! And while you're in the kitchen, some Braille biscuits might also be nice, says Lady Bracknell at Ouch! (part of the "Merry Cripmas" feature that makes Ouch! such a fine blog).

It can't be January without some best-of-2005's Gimpy Mumpy's. Susan LoTiempo's "Very Short List" of the best disability films of 2005 includes Murderball, and...well, that's it. LoTiempo wonders, where's the disability-friendly movie that's NOT about men and masculinity?
She clarifies, "one that didn't concentrate on wheelchairs crashing into each other, locker room blather and overdoses of testosterone." Sounds great. (I'd suggest Liebe Perla, for its scenes about shopping and appearance--being of small stature, Perla Ovitz cannot buy suitable adult clothing readymade, and instead sews her own dresses, and advises her young German friend Hannelore Witkofski on fashion--no testosterone in sight.)

Next roundup should be posted in early February. Until then, stay warm (northerners), stay cool (Australians), and stay dry (my fellow Californians).