Posted by: Lisa Hill | July 9, 2019

Here we are, read us: women, disability and writing, edited by Trish Harris

I came by this book through serendipity: I was chatting with Kiwi freelancer Elizabeth Heritage who works in the book trade and NZ media, and I asked if she knew of any new Maori publications.  She put me in touch with the people behind a book that features amongst its contributors, a Maori author called Te Awhina Arahanga.  ‘Crip the Lit‘ was formed in 2016 by Trish Harris and Robyn Hunt as a way for Deaf and disabled writers to have their unique voices, perspectives and stories included and valued in mainstream writing in New Zealand. Here We Are, Read Us is their first publication, featuring eight authors, each vignette consisting of a profile of themselves: an illustrated portrait accompanied by a symbol on the picture frame, with the writer then explaining the metaphor in 150 words.

As you can see when you visit their websites, the eight authors featured in Here We Are, Read Us have impressive writing CVs:

This is Te Awhina Arahanga’s profile:

When I turned 50 I wrote a note to myself: blow bubbles, buzz with bees and dance in the clouds. My head has always been in the clouds with way too many internal conversations. It makes it hard to concentrate, so I tend to drift. Or procrastinate—eyes looking upward towards the streaks and puffs, time capsules of the past and what could be.

I’m a professional graffiti artist who is also a poet. I write on walls in museums and exhibitions, and on interpretation panels. It’s an odd genre. The words begin flat as if sleeping on paper, handwritten with a Black Pilot V5 or Lemy fountain pen with an extra fine nib—always black ink, never blue. The finished versions are typed and mounted.

I was once embarrassed to admit I’ve been legally classified as insane. You end up with scar tissue—mentally, emotionally and physically. Every now and then you get some peace. It’s not often, but when it comes it’s usually because you have a black pen in your hand and a cloud overhead. (p.15-16)

Why do you write?

The rewards can be very personal. When my son was interviewed for a prestigious overseas scholarship the panel asked what he’d take. He said a rugby ball and a poetry book called Darkness in Light. When your son chooses your poetry, other accolades are insignificant. (p.20)

You can see another vignette at Jane Arthur’s review of the anthology here.

I’ll conclude with an excerpt from Pasifica poet and author Tusiata Avia that explains the huge significance of this small book:

Recently, I wrote and performed a series of ‘coming out’ poems.  Previously I hadn’t written much about epilepsy except in veiled ways.  Writing helps me say: Epilepsy is not shameful.  It too, is part of my life.  Being in this publication is part of that. (p.4)

Authors: Tusiata Avia, Steff Green, Helen Vivienne Fletcher, Charlotte Simmonds, Michele Leggot, Trish Harris, Te Awhina Arahanga, and posthumously Iris Wilkinson (aka Robin Hyde, 1906-1939)
Editor: Trish Harris
Artwork: Adele Jackson
Title: Here We Are, Read Us: women, disability and writing
Produced in 2019 with funding from Creative New Zealand, Whitireia and Weltec Research and Innovation Fund, Rehabilitation Welfare Trust, and Wellington Paraplegic and Physically Disabled Trust Board, and supported by Arts Access Aotearoa.

Available for free in these formats: e-book, large print, audio, Braille and more.  Download it here.

Limited print copies of the book (in pocket A6 size and large print A4 size) are available by emailing here. There may be a small charge for postage.


Responses

  1. I’m glad to learn of the writing organization ‘Crip the Lit’ and its publication. In reading this blog post, it impressed on my mind the limited published writings that chronicle writers’ dealing with different disabilities. I can’t recall a publication such as Here we are, read us that centralize the subjective ‘I’ from the personal perspectives of differently abled writers. A memoir that comes to mind is Autobiography of a Face by the late author Lucy Grealy. She suffered from a rare form of cancer at 9 years old which led to the left side of her jaw being removed. Her disfigurement led to bouts of disabling pain. Grealy used writing as a vehicle of creativity and empowerment.

    A few years ago, I took part in an academic campus event which highlighted American writers who had physical, mental, and learning disabilities. It was unbeknownst to me at that time that the novel F. Scott Fitzgerald had a physical disability aggravated by alcoholism. I knew of the fiction writer Flannery O’Connor who was productive during the earlier phases of her illness. I read an excerpt from a short story by the late science fiction writer, Octavia Butler, who struggled with dyslexia in her youth. I applaud writers of ‘Crip the Lit’ for their work in bringing societal awareness to disability from the women’s perspective and experience.

    Te Awhina Arahanga has written an interesting profile of herself. I conducted a brief search on her online. She has attained significant professional and personal accomplishments. She is able to find humor in her experience with mental illness which may not be easy for other people who suffer with psychological disabilities. By bringing her experience on the ‘page’, Arahanga encourages readers to view differently abled people with compassion and acceptance.

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    • Hi Sonia
      Some notable creatives who transcended their disability include the artist Frida Kahlo, the composer and songwriter Cole Porter and the opera star Marjorie Lawrence. In the literary field some that I know of include Janet Frame, Fiona Wright, Jessica White, Susan Hawthorne, Gillian Mears and Honey Brown. What I’ve read by these writers (as distinct from other works they may have written) is not ‘about’ their disability but it informs their writing. I’m thinking, for example, of Gillian Mears love of horses which shines through in her last book, which she wrote when her MS prevented her from riding any more.
      During my career I was one of those responsible for helping teachers to learn new skills when the Victorian government introduced mainstreaming for children with disabilities. It had always happened, to a greater or lesser extent, but what the change meant was that the children had a *right* to the same education as everyone else, and it was schools that had to change to accommodate the child. I don’t say it’s perfect, indeed I know it’s not, but it’s still a big improvement on the days when disabled kids were hidden away and thought not to be capable of learning.
      What sticks in my mind when I think about this issue is the case of Franklin D Roosevelt, who always concealed his disability from polio, presumably because he thought people wouldn’t vote for him if they saw him in a wheelchair. Our federal parliament had a bit of trouble adjusting to its first MP in a wheelchair, but the fact that he is there is a huge signal that (a) attitudes have changed, because people voted for him and (b) everyone in the federal parliament can see for themselves that he is *able* at what he does. (In fact, he’s a good deal more able than many of them, but that’s an issue for another day!)

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  2. […] See my review […]

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  3. […] Here we are, read us: women, disability and writing, edited by Trish Harris […]

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