Disability in Literature (Fall 2015)

Class Lecture and Discussion Notes

Here at the top, you'll find links to handouts and assignment sheets.

Beneath the handout links, you'll find notes for lecture and discussion in class. I'll keep the material for the most recent class session at the top; scroll down for earlier sessions.


Here is a link to the Disability in Literature Fall 2015 Syllabus.

Before our first class meeting on Friday, September 4th, please read Nancy Mairs' essay, "On Being a Cripple."

Here is a link to the information about our visit to the Lowell Association for the Blind on September 25th.

Here is a link to the handout explaing how to find the films we're watching this semester.

Here is a link to the Discussion Starter Assignment Sheet.

Here is a link to the Current Events Paper assignment, due October 9th.

Here is a link to the Final Paper Project Packet, due December 14th.

If you're looking for a book for the final project (that's just one option) you might check out my list here.

Here is a link to the OPTIONAL Service Learning Project (one option for the Final Project).


For our discussion of Jillian Weise's essay on Disability & Poetry (and her poems)

Jillian Weise's main page is here: http://www.jillianweise.com/

There is video of her reading from one of her poems here: http://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poet/jillian-weise (she comes on about 4 minutes in after the introduction). We should listen to "Cafe Loop" (6:08-9:05)

Weise has a great essay on "Going Cyborg" (about getting a new prosthetic leg) in the New York Times Magazine from 2010.

You can read her poem "Semi semi dash" and a brief essay (or is it a short poem) about the poem at the Poetry Society of America.

She has a great esssay -- "Cloning Disabled Subjects" -- about speaking at a conference, and how she identifies as a cyborg. Here's a brief quote from that essay that I find particularly notable:

Because my daily routine depends on an electrically charged knee—which sometimes misfires, runs out of power, and dies—I identify as a cyborg. This word is preferable to the other words I have been prescribed such as patient, handicapped, physically challenged, or even person with a disability. The word cyborg functions as both description and rebellion.

Weise's essay that we read -- "The Disability Rights Movement and the Legacy of Poets with Disabilities" -- is also online at the National Poetry Foundation.

There are some references in her essay that you may want further info about:

In the opening, she talks about being with Jim Ferris, who is a scholar of disability studies and a poet. He has a mobility impairment.

She also talks a lot about poety Josephine Miles, a "foremother" to the Disability Rights Movement.

Louise Glück is another poet she discusses; Glück has received numerous awards and served as U.S. Poet Laureate, among other honors.

She mentions the Temple University blog, Disability Studies, which you can read here: http://disstud.blogspot.com/

Weise's poems from The Amputee's Guide to Sex will certainly set us up for some discussion about sexuality and sexualized images (and desexualized images) of disability. On that topic, you might check out these American Apparel ad parodies featuring a model with a physical disability. The project, called American Able, is from 2010. Here's a statement from the photographer, Holly Norris:

‘American Able’ intends to, through spoof, reveal the ways in which women with disabilities are invisibilized in advertising and mass media. I chose American Apparel not just for their notable style, but also for their claims that many of their models are just ‘every day’ women who are employees, friends and fans of the company. However, these women fit particular body types. Their campaigns are highly sexualized and feature women who are generally thin, and who appear to be able-bodied. Women with disabilities go unrepresented, not only in American Apparel advertising, but also in most of popular culture. Rarely, if ever, are women with disabilities portrayed in anything other than an asexual manner, for ‘disabled’ bodies are largely perceived as ‘undesirable.’ In a society where sexuality is created and performed over and over within popular culture, the invisibility of women with disabilities in many ways denies them the right to sexuality, particularly within a public context.

There's a good article discussing both the strengths and problems of this installation here.

You might be interested in an editorial article at The Guardian by a woman with cerebral palsy: "Sex and Disability: Yes, the two can and should go together"

I'm also hoping we'll talk a bit more about poetry. We haven't covered a lot of it, but there are lots of poets out there who have disabilities and who write about their disabilities. One particularly fascinating area where there's intersection between poetry and disability is in the world of Deaf poetry. There's a wonderful documentary about it called Deaf Jam. More info here: http://www.deafjam.org/poetry.html

You can see some clips here:


And though it's not precisely literature, it is music with lyrics, so maybe we can bend the rules: here's a link to a group of Deaf students at a summer camp doing Pharrell's "Happy."




For our dicussion of Still Alice (10/30 & 11/6)

Still Alice became a feature film in 2014, starring Julianne Moore, Alec Baldwin, and Kristen Stewart. Julianne Moore won an Academy Award (Best Actress) for her portrayal of Alice.

There's a recent(Feb 2012) interesting New York Times Wellblog post about how our culture copes with Alzheimer's called "Finding Joy in Alzheimer's"

Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote a New York Times Opinion piece that you can read here.

O'Connor speaks from experience; her husband suffered from Alzheimer's, and during his later stages, while he was in a nursing home, he fell in love with another patient. There are some details on her story here and here. The New York Times Story, "Love in the time of Dementia" has an excellent discussion of the O'Connors and the larger questions involved.

Pat Summit, the coach of the University of Tennessee's women's basketball team, was diagnosed in the summer of 2011 with early onset Alzheimer's. The Pat Summit Foundation works to raise awareness of Alzheimer's. The University of Tennessee will be dedicating Pat Summit Plaza to celebrate the coach. You can read an earlier story about her situation here. There's another story (December 2011) at the Washington Post. There's a more recent (April 2012) follow-up to this story, including at least one commentator who thinks that Summit should step down from her position. Summitt stepped down from her position in . On April 16th, 2012, she stepped down from her position. In an October 2012 article, she claims that she felt forced to step down from the job.

There are other related forms of dementia that are the focus of recent articles. You may be interested in this New York Times story about Frontotemporal dementia.


For discussion of Harriet McBryde's excerpt from "Too Late to Die Young" 10/23

McBryde is probably most well-known for her public debatein 2002 with philosopher Peter Singer. There's a very good discussion of it at the New York Times called "Unspeakable Conversations."

Here is Harriet Mc Bryde Johnson's NYT obituary (she died in 2008).

The New York Times Magazine later that year published another obituary/story about McBryde Johnson that was actually written by Peter Singer; many of McBryde Johnson's friends and fellow activists were very upset about this.

McBryde was involved with the group Not Dead Yet, which opposes legalization of suicide and euthanasia, which they believe discriminates against the disabled.

There is a long interview with her on "It's Our Story."

In 2006, she gave a book talk/interview about Too Late to Die Young at the Holocaust Museum.

For our discussion of David Foster Wallace's "The Depressed Person" 10/23

Important reminder: if you are dealing with depression, seek help. You can start with the FREE UML Counseling Center.

David Foster Wallace was a very well-known writer of major novels, short stories, and essays. He took his life in 2008, at the age of 46. There are quite a few articles about him. You may be interested in this one from Salon.

The New Yorker did a profile of him that also mentions the story "The Depressed Person."

Rolling Stone sent a writer (David Lipsky) to interview him, but they didn't publish the story until after he died.

Jason Segal recently starred as DFW in a movie about his life, The End of the Tour, which chronicles Wallace's book tour with that Rolling Stone reporter.

Some people have said that the inspiration for the story was Elizabeth Wurtzel, who is known for the memoir Prozac Nation.

His partner, Karen Green, was interviewed and talked about her attempt to edit "The Depressed Person."

After his suicide, many people saw connections bewtween the story and Wallace's real life, which is what happens in this article about the DFW biography, Every Love Story is a Ghost Story (by D.T. Max).

Some people find the story to be an incredibly accurate account of depression.

There are also people who have strong negative responses to DFW's portrayal of the female protagonist of the story. An article on "The Literary Chauvinist" considers Wallace's larger issues with masculinity and women.

Wallace was also a professor of creative writing, and you can see some of his syllabi and teaching materials at this archive.

And if you still don't know who he is, he gave a fairly famous commencement speech at Kenyon College titled "This is Water," which became even more famous because of this video adaptation of it.


For discussion of "Yellow Wallpaper" and "What's Wrong with Me?" 10/16

Here's a link to "The Yellow Wallpaper." (from 1892)

Here's a link to "What's Wrong with Me?" (from 2013)

These stories are from two very different time periods -- we might think about & discuss how things are have changed from 1892 until 2013. Both of our pieces portray women dealing with a disability and a health care system that is not always sympathetic to her needs. Also note, while "The Yellow Wallpaper" is fiction (a short story), "What's Wrong with Me? " is non-ficiton (a personal essay).

We'll talk a little bit about the history of mental illness and the treatments for it, using some images from Theodore Gericault.

PBS created a timeline exploring some of the earliest treatments for mental illness.

The National Institute of Mental Health has a comprehensive guide to depression, including symptoms, diagnosis, treatments, and other useful information.

A 2004 NPR story discussed the treatment of depression, in a discussion with Andrew Solomon, the author of Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression.

Mental illness and depression specifically are increasingly common issues on college campuses, as described in this NPR story from 2011.

Here on our own campus, resources are available if you need help. Stop by the Counseling Center; it's free and confidential.

If you're interested in Megan O'Rourke's essay, you might want to know a bit more about her; she's a very successful writer and editor, and is now working on a memoir about chronic illness. There's an article about her here, too; that link includes a video of O'Rourke giving a talk about her work on her book project, "What's Wrong with Me? The Mysteries of Chronic Illness."


For discussion of Current Events Articles

Please go here to get the full list of article links from your classmates: http://faculty.uml.edu/bmarshall/current%20events%20fall%202015.html


For discussion 10/2 on My Left Foot

Here is a link to the film available at Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-MdG4Q7owUc

Link to video from 1962 of the real Christy Brown: http://www.rte.ie/archives/2013/1017/481030-at-home-with-christy-brown-in-1962/

The Little Museum of Dublin recently (April 2015) put together an exhibit of works by Christy Brown: http://www.irishtimes.com/news/ireland/irish-news/christy-brown-exhibition-opens-at-little-museum-of-dublin-1.2195631

A 2007 biography of Christy Brown alleges that his wife, Mary Carr, was responsible for Brown's tragic death. You can read more about it here: http://www.biography.com/news/my-left-foot-christy-brown-biography-facts

There's another review of the biography at the Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2007/nov/18/biography.features1

According to this article: http://irishphiladelphia.com/myleftfoot042508

After Christy’s death, O’Neill recalls, Mary threw out many of his paintings. Her husband, Hugh, was so disturbed by this that he went into the dumpster and rescued as many of them as he could. For years, the O’Neills kept them in storage. “They moved with us everywhere we went, including to California,” she says. “In the movie, all the paintings you see were the ones we rescued. Anne [Brown] told the producers that we had them, and they borrowed them.”


For Discussion 9/25 (class meets at the L.A.B.!) of the play Shoot! and the packet on sight impairment

Blindness: Definitions:

"Blindness is the condition of lacking visual perception due to physiological or neurological factors."

Specific terms:

Organizations related to Blindness

Lowell Association for the Blind (LAB)

American Foundation for the Blind

National Federation of the Blind

From the NFB website: " The real problem of blindness is not the loss of eyesight. The real problem is the misunderstanding and lack of information that exist. If a blind person has proper training and opportunity, blindness can be reduced to a physical nuisance."

NFB is involved in advocacy for the blind; for example, they were involved in public objections to the film, Blindness (2008), for its portrayal of the blind as incompetent and immoral.

Did you know that October is "Meet the Blind Month"?

You may also be interested in an exhibit "Dialog in the Dark" that has been travelling the world.

Helen Keller

Connecting with the essay and poems about Helen Keller, you might be interested to hear/read her "This I Believe" essay from circa 1951. The opening audio features Keller's own voice.

There are also videos on Youtube of the real Helen, including this one with her interpreter/companion, Polly. There is also newsreel footage of Keller with Annie Sullivan from 1930. Many people primarily know Keller's story from the very popular film The Miracle Worker. Here's the classic "water" scene from that film.

Lynn Manning (author of Shoot!)

You might want to take a look at Lynn Manning's website, which details his work.

Here's a video interview with Manning where he talks about how he became blind and his life in a sighted world.

There's more info about Manning's well-known play and performance, Weights, here.

Additional stories of interest on the topic of blindness and sight impairment:

Here is a video about a painter who is blind: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=LWmalXfWNLc

You may also be interested in the theater group, Theater Breaking Through Barriers (formerly the Theater by the Blind) to learn more about this more than 30-year-old acting & theater group that performs Off-Broadway with an integrated cast of actors with a range of disabilities.

There are also numerous blind photographers; HBO recently did a documentary on them, called Dark Light: The Art of Blind Photographers.

You MUST check out Seeing Beyond Sight, an online exhibit and companion book (I'll have it in class) about sight-impaired photographers. The group is currently developing a documentary film; you can see some clips here.

On the issue of whether a blind person can own a gun, you might be interested to read about Carey McWilliams, author of Guide dogs and guns: America's First blind marksman fires back. For more information on his work in this area, you may want to check out his FAQ on blindess and the second amendment. You may also enjoy the Daily Show feature from a few years ago, "A Shot in the Dark," where they interview McWilliams.

You may also be interested in the story of David Paterson, who was governor of New York (2008 - 2010), and as of 2014 was appointed Chairman of the New York Democratic Party. For a brief time, he hosted a drive-time radio show. In September of 2010, Paterson appeared on Saturday Night Live alongside Fred Armisen, the man who played him in sketches. In previous sketches, Armisen portrayed Paterson as bumbling and incompetent, drawing criticism from advocates for the blind and disability rights groups. The video of Paterson's appearance is here.

You may be interested in the story of Wanda Diaz, a blind astrophysicist who is working on non-visual ways to represent what is going on in outer space. You can listen to a fascinating story (and some cool music) in the story about her here.

Starbucks has a gift card featuring Braille (this is not meant as an ad! A friend of mine saw them in the Starbucks on campus and sent me a photo!)

Regarding Victimization & Disability (relating to Shoot! but also to other texts for the course)

According to the most recent crime statistics from the Department of Justice, the disabled are more likely to be the victims of violent crimes. A few notable stats:
-->Age-adjusted rate of nonfatal violent crime against persons with disabilities was 1.5 times higher than the rate for persons without disabilities.
-->Females with a disability had a higher victimization rate than males with a disability; males had a higher rate than females among those without a disability.

Here's a link to some of the DOJ study: http://bjs.gov/index.cfm?ty=pbdetail&iid=2238

Here's a recent (September 2013) article about a new law in Iowa that allows blind people to carry guns in public.

The US Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) has resources specific for dealing with crime victims who have disabilities: http://www.ovc.gov/publications/infores/ServingVictimsWithDisabilities_bulletin/crime.html


For Discussion 9/18 of Temple Grandin's work (and the film about her), and ASD more generally:

Here's a link to an article about a local school using robots to help young students with ASD develop social skills.

There are several online quizzes for the (informal) evaluation of Autism/Asperger's, such as this one from PsychCentral.

You might be interested in the "AQ Test," (the Autism-Spectrum Quotient), created by Simon Baron-Cohen and his colleagues at Cambridge's Autism Research Centre: http://archive.wired.com/wired/archive/9.12/aqtest.html

Here's the link to Temple Grandin's web page, which focuses on her work in the cattle industry . You may be interested in her other page, which is focused specifically on autism.

Here's a link to a useful (short) documentary by one young man on the spectrum called Autism Reality.

A recent 60-Minutes story -- Apps for Autism -- focuses on how the ipad has allowed people on the autism spectrum to develop new ways to communicate.

Take a look at the making of the Temple Grandin film from HBO.

Here are some brief interviews with some of the actors in the film.

Here's HBO's main site about the film.

You may also enjoy the BBC's show, The Woman Who Thinks Like a Cow, about Grandin.

Grandin has also done a TED talk, "The World Needs All Kinds of Minds."

After the Clare Danes film was made, Grandin became very popular in the media. I’ve collected some quotes from and about her and the movie from different sources here; I hope that they will help inform our conversation. The links will take you to longer versions of the stories.

From Grandin interview on MSNBC http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/35150832/ns/health-mental_health/

Temple Grandin: I am much less autistic now, compared to when I was young. I remember some behaviors like picking carpet fuzz and watching spinning plates for hours. I didn’t want to be touched. I couldn’t shut out background noise. I didn’t talk until I was about 4 years old. I screamed. I hummed. But as I grew up, I improved.

What help do you think most people with autism need?
Little kids, especially ages 2 through 5, need one-on-one interaction with an effective teacher. I don’t care who that teacher is. It could be the mother, an aunt, a grandma, someone from a church, a synagogue, maybe a student. You just need someone who clicks with that kid. The worst thing you can do is nothing. You can’t let these kids sit and watch TV all day.

The other thing is, teach these kids manners. I was raised in the ‘50s and ‘60s, and manners were drilled into me. I see kids [on the spectrum] today that have no manners. That’s going to hurt them. You can’t punish a child who is acting out because of sensory overload. But it’s unacceptable to see kids throwing things and slapping people. I see kids with Asperger’s [a mild form of autism] who can’t hold a job because they are constantly late. Teach kids to use an alarm clock. This is common sense and sometimes we forget about common sense. Autism is used too much as an excuse for bad behavior.

“Autism pride” or neurodiversity is a growing movement. Do you think there needs to be a “cure” for autism?
I believe there’s a point where mild autistic traits are just normal human variation. Mild autism can give you a genius like Einstein. If you have severe autism, you could remain nonverbal. You don’t want people to be on the severe end of the spectrum. But if you got rid of all the autism genetics, you wouldn’t have science or art. All you would have is a bunch of social ‘yak yaks.’

What was it like to see someone portray you?
It was like going in a weird time machine. The movie was set in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and I was very severe back then, very anxious. This was before I went on antidepressants for the panic. Puberty and high school were horrible for me. I spent time with Claire [Danes], and her portrayal of me back then is very authentic. She was me.

Another interesting Grandin interview and story can be found on NPR here.

In one comment in response to the NPR story, jaynee salinger (jsalinger) wrote:

Temple Grandin's story is inspirational but she represents a very small percentage of individuals with autism who are very, very high functioning. What about those who are on the other end of the spectrum. Their story rarely gets told. The best account I ever read, and in my opinion an overlooked gem, is The Accidental Teacher: Life Lessons from my Silent Son. Temple Grandin's life is like a fairytale with a happily ever after ending. But reality? Think again.

A few notes from the Wall Street Journal article here: http://blogs.wsj.com/speakeasy/2010/08/09/temple-grandin-a-chat-with-the-woman-who-inspired-the-film/

Grandin spent a lot of time with Danes, giving the actress 9 hours worth of old VHS tapes of her during the 80s and 90s. Danes had the tapes digitized and put on her iPod Touch for study. “She really nailed that part of me,” says Grandin. “She became me.”

Grandin also worked closely with the writers, directors and the 30 cows that had been purchased specifically for use in the movie. She made sure everything was portrayed perfectly. “You remember that movie City Slickers with Holstein cattle on the ranch?” Grandin asked me. “That movie was stupid and I told them we had to have cattle accuracy. I had a lot of input with that and it turned out really right.”

A couple of articles recommended by a classmate about autism and the new movie Inside Out:




For our Discussion (9/11) of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the NightTime:

There is a Broadway production of the play based on this novel happening in NYC right now! More info here: http://www.curiousonbroadway.com/ You can see a "trailer" for the play (originally produced in London by the National Theatre Company) here: http://www.curiousonstage.com/

As we think about Christopher Boone, first note that we never get a specific diagnosis. Nonetheless, there are many obvious overlaps with issues on the autism spectrum. I think it's worth watching the trailer for the PBS POV special called Neurotypical.

We'll be careful in our conversations not to assume Christopher is autistic, but I know that this comparison will come up, and that issues of autism will be a part of our discussion.

Need some background info on autism? Here's a link to a useful interactive quiz that tests your knowledge and provides some background. The CDC also has a quiz here. The CDC has a ton of great resources if you are seeking more info on ASD, including updates on the latest research, treatments, diagnosis, etc.

Here's a link to an interview with Mark Haddon; he talks about (start at the 0:50 mark for his thoughts on "research" and his choice about portraying a character with a disability).

Some of what he says also appears on his blog entry, where he talks about how he's NOT an expert on autism.

Here's a link to one article by someone on the spectrum who objects to claims that Haddon understood or portrayed autism in the book.

If you like this book or are interested in this topic, here are some books that may interest you for the final project:


For our Discussions in class on Day 1 (9/6):

Here is a link to the first reading assignment, Nancy Mairs' essay, "On Being a Cripple."

Here is a link to the story "Clearly, Frankly, Unabashedly Disabled."

Here are some links that give more information on people and programs mentioned in the article "Clearly, Frankly, Unabashedly Disabled":

Comedian Josh Blue's website

Robert David Hall (coroner character on CSI: Crime Scene Investigation): An article in the Telegraph on Robert David Hall and an article in Ability Magazine.

Jillian Weise, poet, bio at the Poetry Foundation, and a funny essay from her about getting a new leg in the New York Times Magazine,

Vital Signs: Crip Culture Talks Back video (from 1995), Director's Cut. Includes video interivew with Cheryl Marie Wade (we'll read her work later this semester).

The National Arts and Disability Center (NADC) website.

Website for Danny Murphy, quadriplegic actor and business marketing expert.

Link to preview for Cinemability, a documentary about representations of disability in film.

Webstite for Sarah Reinertsen, Ironman triathlete with a prosthetic leg.

Here is a link to the story from The Guardian about a mountain climber with two bionic legs: http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/apr/09/disability-amputees-bionics-hugh-herr-super-prostheses

Have you seen the video for X Ambassadors' song, "Renegades"? You can find it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1u-niluB8HI

Here's a bit of background on the video/band from an article in the Ithaca Journal:

The just-released music video for "Renegades" was shot in Ithaca, and features several stories of people who have worked to overcome their physical disabilities. That's something that hits home with the band, given that Casey Harris, 28, has been blind since childhood.

"We wanted to make it emotional and personal — and that's as personal as it gets for me, Casey and the band," Harris said. "Casey's disability was a big part of our lives, and it really impacted us as a band. It forces us to stick together, help each other out and be real team. He is my brother, so we still fight all the time, but above all he's a huge inspiration to me and always has been."

We'll also talk about Stella Young's TED talk, "I'm Not Your Inspiration, thank you very much."