While literary journals abound, few take the time to focus on the experience of people with disabilities, both in content and the accessibility of the medium. The Deaf Poets Society, is an online literary and arts journal created by and about people with disabilities. The journal’s website offers audio readings of all text, including prose and poetry submissions, and written descriptions of visual art pieces. But the mission of Deaf Poets Society goes far deeper than just making an online journal that is accessible for all.
As stated in their manifesto, The Deaf Poets Society “look[s] for narratives about the experience of disability that complicate or altogether undo the dominant and typically marginalizing rhetoric about disability” and explores the complexity of identity. Many of the pieces in The Deaf Poets Society’s volumes investigate the interplay of race, sexuality, and gender with disability, challenging the dominant narratives our culture perpetuates.
Co-Founder and Poetry Editor Sarah Katz talked about the literary journal’s mission and origins.
JF: What impact do you hope to have on the representation of people with a disability?
SK: Life with a disability means something different to each person. Those differences are meaningful–whether they stem from identifying as black and disabled, or queer and D/deaf, or indigenous and crip. Those differences make up different strands of a larger web of a disabled life that we share in common. Understanding and communicating that complexity will foster a dialogue that I think we haven’t had in a long time. It’s my hope that The Deaf Poets Society will start to crack through that wall, and open disabled and able-bodied readers alike to the idiosyncrasies of disabled life.
JF: The journal also acknowledges what it is like to be a member of multiple marginalized groups and the pressure to package oneself into a single identity. How do you think more artists can address this issue?
SK: It’s important for artists to consider what they’re risking in their art or writing. What does your work mean in the larger context of humanity? Marginalized individuals, especially those with multiple identifiers, have so much to offer to the conversation–given how few are canonized and included in anthologies. That said, there are so many authors and artists who are doing that work of being an advocate for multiply marginalized groups and people–Leroy F. Moore, Jr, an African American writer and activist dedicated to exploring the intersections between race and disability, Vilissa Thompson of Ramp Your Voice, Alice Wong of the Disability Visibility Project, Nicola Griffith, who co-founded the #CripLit chat with Wong (Twitter conversations about disabled characters in literature or the writing life as a disabled person), Raymond Luczak, who edited “QDA: A Queer Disability Anthology.” Leah Lakshmi-Piepzna Samarasinha, a queer, sick, and disabled nonbinary femme writer of Burger/ Tamil Sri Lankan and Irish/ Roma descent, is a lead artist with the disability justice performance collective Sins Invalid, who works with Syrus Marcus Ware, co-director of the Toronto disability justice collective, PDA (Performance/Disability/Art). Wordgathering, Breath & Shadow, Tiny Tim Literary Review, Rogue Agent, and many more literary journals are also doing some of this crucial work as well.
JF: The journal focuses on making the content accessible to those with different disabilities. What steps do you take for your prose and art pieces? How can other journals make their work more accessible?
SK: We try to make our journal as accessible as possible through various means. We provide alt text/image descriptions with all art and images, including author photos (which provides textual access to visual information for blind folks either using the computer, screen reader, or braille display); audio for all text on all pages of the website, with the exception of image descriptions; and finally, we offer a PDF of every issue in APHont, which is a sans serif typeface created by the American Printing House for the Blind (and is free for download on their website). We decided to offer PDFs of every issue for readers who might want to bypass navigating through the website to read the issue.
All of these steps are pretty simple–a little time-consuming, maybe, but we request that each submitter send image descriptions, audio files, and any other necessary forms of access (such as captions for video), which makes our jobs as an all-volunteer staff easier. Plus, by engaging our fellow artists and writers in the process of making the journal more accessible, we’re contributing to and benefiting from a community that sustains all of us.
JF: What works are you most proud of in your past issue or upcoming issue?
SK: I am so pleased by every person we’ve published so far, but if I had to pick a few favorites, I’d go with Mary Peelen’s “Barometer” in Issue 1, and Travis Chi Wing Lau’s three gorgeous poems in Issue 2. For me, these poems are striking because of the sense of boundlessness and gravitas contained in their narrow contours. Both poets employ quiet, idiosyncratic voices that are dynamic and that feel omnipotent in their explorations of the disabled body.
JF: What are your hopes for the journal’s impact?
SK: I hope that The Deaf Poets Society becomes a home to all people with disabilities. While we might have different backgrounds and experiences, this is a community where, I hope, people are committed to learning from and honoring the other’s experience.
JF: How can people support journals like Deaf Poets Society?
SK: The Deaf Poets Society is an online journal of disability literature and art that produces six issues a year and offers programming in the form of writing workshops, readings, and exhibitions. Beginning with Issue 2, which was just released this month, we began paying our contributors. We hope to continue to pay contributors–this has been our goal from the start–but we’re completely reliant on donations. They’re not tax-deductible yet–we’re exploring the possibility of nonprofit status or obtaining a fiscal sponsor–but we can assure you that every dollar goes toward the costs of journal production and author and artist payment. Every dollar helps! Learn more at www.deafpoetssociety.com/contribute.
JF: What else would you like to mention?
Keep on the lookout for some exciting programming coming your way soon, including the first few DPS writing workshops, a reading, and an art exhibition!
The Deaf Poets Society releases and issue about six times a year and accepts submissions on a rolling basis. More information on submitting work and guidelines can be found here. Support the journal by making a donation today.