Why Richard III?

This week in North Philly Notes, Jeffrey Wilson, author of Richard III’s Bodies from Medieval England to Modernity, writes about why the historical figure seems to be everywhere these days.

“Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer,” Richard III beams at the start of Shakespeare’s play.

Summer 2022 really was Richard III’s “glorious summer,” with four major productions appearing all at once: Arthur Hughes for the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-Upon-Avon; Danai Gurira in the role at the Public Theater in New York; Colm Feore at the Stratford Festival in Ontario, Canada; and The Lost King, a feature film starring Sally Hawkins.

Each production brought something new. Hughes was the first disabled actor to play Shakespeare’s most famous disabled character for the Royal Shakespeare Company, creating conversations about the relationships between disabled actors’ and disabled characters’ bodies. Gurira was the first Black woman to play Richard III on a major stage, sparking discussions about disability and intersectionality. Feore opened the Stratford Festival’s new Tom Patterson Theatre, harkening back to the festival’s first ever play—Richard III in 1953. And The Lost King commemorated the tenth anniversary of the discovery of Richard III’s skeleton on August 24, 2012, stirring controversy about the representation of academic work in mainstream media.

But why Richard III? Why is he always everywhere?

While mired in details of medieval English history, Shakespeare’s Richard III and its configuration of disability, villainy, and tragedy still speak to us in the twenty-first century with a surprising urgency. “Foremost among the standard-bearers of Disability Studies is Shakespeare’s Richard III,” noted leading disability scholar Tobin Siebers just before his death in 2015. Richard’s body was international front-page news when his skeleton was discovered. He’s in that echelon of Shakespearean characters—Shylock, Falstaff, Hamlet, Othello, Caliban—who have entire books written about them, like mine: Richard III’s Bodies from Medieval England to Modernity: Shakespeare and Disability History.

Richard III was Shakespeare’s second-most popular play in print during his lifetime and the most performed history play in both the eighteenth and twenty-first centuries. The four greatest Shakespearean actors of the past four centuries—Richard Burbage, David Garrick, Edmund Kean, Laurence Olivier—all played Richard before Hamlet.

The first Shakespeare play professionally staged in America? Richard III, in 1749. The first play performed by an African American acting company? Richard III, in 1821. Documentaries are made about the challenge and importance of Richard III, such as Looking for Richard (1996) and NOW: In the Wings on a World Stage (2014). The play inspired the recent Netflix hit House of Cards and drew comparisons to the rise of Donald Trump in the New York Times.

James Siemon, a recent editor of Shakespeare’s play, says that Richard III is Janus-faced, pointing from the early-modern age back to its medieval past but also forward to a modern future, “socially topical both to Shakespeare’s London, and, paradoxically, to subsequent social formations even today.” Disability historian Katherine Schaap Williams similarly notes, “Richard’s double-facing presence in the narrative of disability theory,” the character cited as evidence both for and against the presence of the modern understanding of “disability” in the early-modern age.

There’s always a multi-temporality with Richard. How is Richard III always so historical and so current? Why are issues related to medieval disability so relevant to modern life? Why is Shakespeare’s play so persistent? Why do we care so much about Richard III? What is the significance of his body—not only its meaning in Shakespeare’s text (what it signifies) but also its importance as a cultural touchstone in England and beyond (why it is significant)?

The question about cultural importance is connected to the one about textual meaning. Shakespeare wrote three plays about Richard. In the first, Richard’s enemies say his disability signifies his villainy, calling him a “heap of wrath, foul indigested lump, / As crooked in thy manners as thy shape.” In the second, Richard says his body is not the sign but the cause of his behavior: “Love forswore me in my mother’s womb.” In the third, Richard becomes what Sigmund Freud later called an “exception,” someone who has been slighted by nature, has suffered an unfair disadvantage, something he does not deserve and uses to excuse himself from the ethics that govern civil society. “I am determined to prove a villain,” he says with a giddy smile, but should we hear the “determined” in that line as I have been destined for villainy or as I have resolved myself to villainy?

A certain ambiguity in Shakespeare’s representation of Richard’s disability—which destabilized meaning by dramatizing different meanings being made, deferring meaning to different audiences interpreting disability from different perspectives—has created a flexible conceptual space with a huge gravitational pull: some of our most consequential theories of modern aesthetics, theology, philosophy, ethics, psychology, sociology, historiography, science, medicine, and politics have been brought into attempts to understand Richard’s body.

In a quintessentially Shakespearean exchange, the playwright’s dramatic mode, both tragic and ironic, calls upon some of life’s biggest questions (because it is tragic) but defers answers to the audience (because it is ironic), leaving Richard’s body open to interpretation in different ages embracing different attitudes toward stigma. The changing meaning of disability repeatedly recontextualized through shifting perspectives and circumstances in Shakespeare’s history plays has thus prompted and sustained more than four hundred years of changing interpretations of Richard, his body, his behavior, and his status as either the villain or the victim of Tudor history. The meaning of Richard’s disability changes with time, not only in the course of Shakespeare’s plays but also in the broader cultural history surrounding them.

An interpretation of Richard’s body is never just an interpretation of Richard’s body. When we interpret Richard’s disability, it interprets us in return. It brings us to declare our motives and commitments in our attempts to unfold, explain, condemn, justify, defend, and so forth. It catches something in our core and brings it to the surface through its configuration of abstract questions about reality and issues specific to our bodies. It brings us to consider how we would and should respond when, like Richard, we are born into a world that is totally confusing, deeply unsatisfying, or both.

Examining care injustices

This week in North Philly Notes, Akemi Nishida, author of Just Care, writes about care as an analytical framework to understand the contemporary United States

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we were forced to recognize what was at the stake in the political debates on public healthcare programs such as Medicaid, the overstretched nature of the care labor force, and our own vulnerabilities. We also witnessed continuous fights for social justice including Black Lives Matter and Asian Americans against hate crimes, as well as the development of mutual aid networks to survive together.

Just Care suggests care as a lens to understand these phenomena—and incorporates care as not only an object of study but also an analytical framework. The book examines care injustices where people—whether they are situated as care workers, care receivers, or both—deteriorate under the name of care, when care is used as a mechanism to enhance the political economy and neglect the well-being of those situated as care workers and care receivers. It also addresses care justice, or just care, which occurs when people feel cared for affirmatively and when care is used as a foundation for more-just world building.

Just Care is based on research conducted at the request of disability communities to reveal how the public care services they receive are increasingly becoming money-centered, while they demand these services to be human-centered. Also, as a disabled person, my own experiences of receiving and providing care informed my work.

Just Care considers the experiences of care workers and care receivers under the Medicaid long-term care programs, queer disabled people who participate in community-based care collectives to interdependently support each other, and disabled and sick people of color who engage in bed activism to fight for social change from their bedspaces. By being in conversation with and witnessing care routines, the multiplicity of care became particularly noticeable—it is turned into a mechanism of social oppression and control while simultaneously being a tool with which marginalized communities activate, engage in, and sustain social justice fights.

Here are some key points from the book:

  • When scholars and activists work to dismantle injustices surrounding care activities, they often approach them by looking into solely the labor exploitation care workers experience or the lack of adequate care recipients endure. Instead, Just Care engages in relational analysis to think through how these circumstances are intertwined and mutually witnessed and experienced, as care workers and receivers spend the majority of their daily lives side by side.
  • An example of relational analysis is my tracing of the parallels between the histories of welfare programs for single mothers and families in need, (neo)colonialism and labor migration, and public healthcare programs like Medicaid, from the perspectives of critical race, transnational feminist, and disability studies.
  • This analysis shows that in addition to differences in degrees and kinds of care people individually need, intersecting oppressions including racism, neocolonialism, patriarchy, and ableism shape who is currently pressured to take up caring responsibilities and how their own care needs or disabling conditions are quickly neglected. Such oppressions also make us think of disabled people exclusively as recipients of care and rarely acknowledge their caring contributions to society, let alone how the public healthcare services they receive are rarely adequate and can function to surveil them.
  • Care services for disabled people are primarily planned by centering financial benefits for the care industrial complex and budget suppressions for governments and are not based on disabled people’s needs and preferences.
  • This focus on financial benefits means that well-being of care workers and care recipients become secondary concerns. This leads them to experience mutual debilitation, rather than the presumed idea that one group thrives on the back of the other.
  • Some care workers and care recipients under such debilitating public healthcare services develop interdependent relationships to help one another, in the middle of care-based oppression they experience, by transgressing the strict roles given to them.
  • Disabled people have started care collectives to practice interdependence and based on their insistence that everyone needs care and can provide care. Engaging in interdependence in the middle of a society that values individualist independence is destined to be full of challenges. One challenge they faced is material (to physically meet all the care needs emerging within the group), and another is affective (to make sure conflicts within the group will not affect quality of care).
  • Disabled and sick people engage in social change from their bedspaces, or “bed activism.” Bed activism entails critiquing of intersecting oppressions that manifest in bedspaces and offering visions for a more just world by centering the wisdom of sick and disabled people that emerges from their bedspaces.
  • Bed activism can happen actively, for example, when bed dwellers engage in social change by writing a blog post. It also happens in inactive moments, for example, when they rest in their beds while going through depression, pain, or fatigue. Even those moments inform bed activists about their relationships with their bodies and minds or the social conditions that restrict them to their beds.

We all need care and are capable of caring for others in various ways. When we start from this foundational understanding, how can we each engage in just care or more-just world making through care? Just Care points the way to answering this question.

Temple University Press’ Fall 2022 Catalog

This week in North Philly Notes, we announce our forthcoming Fall 2022 titles.

Are All Politics Nationalized?: Evidence from the 2020 Campaigns in Pennsylvania, Edited by Stephen K. Medvic, Matthew M. Schousen, and Berwood A. Yost

Do local concerns still play a significant role in campaigns up and down the ballot?

Beauty and Brutality: Manila and Its Global Discontents, Edited by Martin F. Manalansan IV, Robert Diaz, and Roland B. Tolentino
Diverse perspectives on Manila that suggest the city’s exhilarating sights and sounds broaden how Philippine histories are defined and understood

BLAM! Black Lives Always Mattered!: Hidden African American Philadelphia of the Twentieth Century, by the Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection

The historic accomplishments of 14 notable Black Philadelphians from the twentieth-century—in graphic novel form

Blue-State Republican: How Larry Hogan Won Where Republicans Lose and Lessons for a Future GOP, by Mileah K. Kromer

What the story of Maryland’s two-term Republican governor can teach us about winning elections

Bringing the Civic Back In: Zane L. Miller and American Urban History, Edited by Larry Bennett, John D. Fairfield, and Patricia Mooney-Melvin

A critical appraisal of the career of Zane L. Miller, one of the founders of the new urban history

Cultures Colliding: American Missionaries, Chinese Resistance, and the Rise of Modern Institutions in China, John R. Haddad

Why American missionaries started building schools, colleges, medical schools, hospitals, and YMCA chapters in China before 1900

Divide & Conquer: Race, Gangs, Identity, and Conflict, by Robert D. Weide

Argues that contemporary identity politics divides gang members and their communities across racial lines

Engaging Place, Engaging Practices: Urban History and Campus-Community Partnerships, Edited by Robin F. Bachin and Amy L. Howard

How public history can be a catalyst for stronger relationships between universities and their communities

An Epidemic among My People: Religion, Politics, and COVID-19 in the United States, Edited by Paul A. Djupe and Amanda Friesen

Did religion make the pandemic worse or help keep it contained?

Gendered Places: The Landscape of Local Gender Norms across the United States, by William J. Scarborough

Reveals how distinct cultural environments shape the patterns of gender inequality

A Good Place to Do Business: The Politics of Downtown Renewal since 1945, by Roger Biles and Mark H. Rose

How six industrial cities in the American Rust Belt reacted to deindustrialization in the years after World War II

Justice Outsourced: The Therapeutic Jurisprudence Implications of Judicial Decision-Making by Nonjudicial Officers, Edited by Michael L. Perlin and Kelly Frailing

Examines the hidden use of nonjudicial officers in the criminal justice system

Memory Passages: Holocaust Memorials in the United States and Germany, by Natasha Goldman

Now in Paperback—Considers Holocaust memorials in the United States and Germany, postwar to the present

The Mouse Who Played Football, Written by Brian Westbrook Sr. and Lesley Van Arsdall; Illustrated by Mr. Tom

Who would ever think that a mouse could play football?

Never Ask “Why”: Football Players’ Fight for Freedom in the NFL, By Ed Garvey; Edited by Chuck Cascio

An inside look at the struggles Ed Garvey faced in bringing true professionalism to football players

The Real Philadelphia Book 2nd Edition, by Jazz Bridge

An anthology of compositions by popular Philadelphia jazz and blues artists accessible for every musician

Reforming Philadelphia, 1682⁠–⁠2022, by Richardson Dilworth

A short but comprehensive political history of the city, from its founding in 1682 to the present day

Refugee Lifeworlds: The Afterlife of the Cold War in Cambodia, by Y-Dang Troeung

Explores key works that have emerged out of the Cambodian refugee archive

A Refugee’s American Dream: From the Killing Fields of Cambodia to the U.S. Secret Service, by Leth Oun with Joe Samuel Starnes

The remarkable story of Leth Oun, from overcoming tragedy and forced labor in Cambodia to realizing dreams he never could have imagined in America

Richard III’s Bodies from Medieval England to Modernity: Shakespeare and Disability History, by Jeffrey R. Wilson

How is Richard III always both so historical and so current?

The Rise and Fall of America’s Concentration Camp Law: Civil Liberties Debates from the Internment to McCarthyism and the Radical 1960s, by Masumi Izumi

Now in Paperback—Dissecting the complex relationship among race, national security, and civil liberties in “the age of American concentration camps”

The Spires Still Point to Heaven: Cincinnati’s Religious Landscape, 1788–1873, by Matthew Smith 

How nineteenth-century Cincinnati tested the boundaries of nativism, toleration, and freedom

Teaching Fear: How We Learn to Fear Crime and Why It Matters, Nicole E. Rader

How rules about safety and the fear of crime are learned and crystalized into crime myths— especially for women

Toward a Framework for Vietnamese American Studies: History, Community, and Memory, Edited by Linda Ho Peché, Alex-Thai Dinh Vo, and Tuong Vu

A multi-disciplinary examination of Vietnamese American history and experience

Understanding Crime and Place: A Methods Handbook, Edited by Elizabeth R. Groff and Cory P. Haberman

A hands-on introduction to the fundamental techniques and methods used for understanding geography of crime

Celebrating Pride Month

As Pride Month comes to a close North Philly Notes showcases three recent books by LGBTQ authors. You can check out all of our Sexuality Studies series titles here and all of our Sexuality Studies/Sexual Identity titles here.

Charles Upchurch, author of “Beyond the Law,”: The Politics of Ending the Death Penalty for Sodomy in Britain

PRIDE is about continuing, celebrating, and securing the work of past generations that has led to greater LGBTQ equality and inclusion within society. That work is sometimes advanced by those with access to political, economic, and cultural power, but this is of secondary importance to the work done by everyone who lives an authentic life, influencing those around them by their example. I have the privilege of being an academic historian, and my new book, “Beyond the Law,”: The Politics of Ending the Death Penalty for Sodomy in Britain, documents the first ever political effort to reform the laws that punished sex between men, which occurred in the early nineteenth century in Britain. At its core, it is a story about those who refused to go along with the vilification of individuals for engaging in private consensual acts. It’s a hopeful story, and while theoretically informed, it is also one that is written in accessible language to reach more people with an account of their rich past, perhaps inspiring them as they make a better future for us all. Happy PRIDE.

Martin Manalansan, coeditor of Q & A: Voices from Queer Asian North America

Q & A: Voices from Queer Asian North America is a forum of vibrant queer voices from Asian North America. At a moment of xenophobic anti-Asian violence and major anti-LGBTQ legislations, the essays, poems, and other creative works in this collection are offering experiences of struggle, exuberance, and survival. Q & A is a testament to the resilience of this  group of scholars, writers, poets and cultural workers whose works are forging hope and viable futures beyond the precarious present.  

Susan Krieger, author of Are You Two Sisters?: The Journey of a Lesbian Couple

During this Pride month, a great array of alternative identities and lifestyles are honored. The “L” word comes first in the list of LGBTQ+, but it is often an invisible identity, as the title of my book Are You Two Sisters? suggests. Particularly for that reason, I think, this new ethnography makes an important contribution.

Since the publication of Are You Two Sisters?: The Journey of a Lesbian Couple, I have been overwhelmed by the appreciation I have felt from readers and potential readers of the book. Studies of lesbian life are rare. As women, much of how we live and feel is invisible to others, and even invisible to ourselves. Aware of that invisibility, lesbian and queer women readers have been especially grateful for this account. I value their praise for the authenticity of the story and for the narrative as a contribution to “our lesbian herstory.”

I am also pleased to have reached a broader audience of Psychology Today online readers. My articles there draw from chapters in the book concerning lesbian invisibility in the larger world and dilemmas of identity within a lesbian couple. I am proud that the insights presented in Are You Two Sisters? may be of value for readers from a range of life experiences.

Celebrating Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month

This week in North Philly Notes, we showcase our Asian American Studies titles for Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month

Readers can get 30% these books with the code TAAAS22 at checkout through our shopping cart.

Passing for Perfect: College Impostors and Other Model Minorities, by erin Khuê Ninh, asks, How does it feel to be model minority—and why would that drive one to live a lie?

“As an Asian American daughter of immigrants, reading Passing for Perfect, I felt my life understood. erin Khuê Ninh has explained our plight—the mad scramble for refuge, the guilt over our parents’ sacrifices, and our trust that education will save us. This book will give us strength against the attackers who blame us for what’s wrong with America. We shall overcome violence with knowledge.”—Maxine Hong Kingston

Read more here
Model Machines: A History of the Asian as Automaton, by Long T. Bui, presents a study of the stereotype and representation of Asians as robotic machines through history.

“In this powerful and indispensable historiography, Long Bui puts to rest any lingering doubt about the pernicious pervasiveness of the model machine myth that has long cast Asians as technologized nonhumans in American cultural and economic histories…. Bui provides rigorous analyses of the implications and damages of the myth as well as bold provocations for interventions and change.”—Betsy Huang, Associate Professor of English and Dean of the College at Clark University

Read more here
Pedagogies of WoundednessIllness, Memoir, and the Ends of the Model Minority, by James Kyung-Jin Lee considers what happens when illness betrays Asian American fantasies of indefinite progress?

“In this powerful and indispensable hist“James Kyung-Jin Lee’s Pedagogies of Woundedness is a poignant and moving work of criticism about illness and mortality. Beginning with a remarkable connection between the seeming invulnerability of Asian Americans as a model minority and their prevalence in the medical profession, Lee proceeds to explore the many ways that Asian Americans have written about bodies, health, and death. One comes away from his insights wiser and braver about what we all must face.”Viet Thanh Nguyen, University Professor at the University of Southern California, and author of Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War

Read more here
CULTURAL STUDIES 
Asian American Connective Action in the Age of Social Media: Civic Engagement, Contested Issues, and Emerging Identities, by James S. Lai, examines how social media has changed the way Asian Americans participate in politics.

“Lai’s timely book provides a nuanced analysis of the ideological and other divisions among Asian Americans, scrupulously refusing to homogenize or essentialize them.”Claire Jean Kim, Professor of Political Science and Asian American Studies at the University of California, Irvine

Read more here
Ethical Encounters: Transnational Feminism, Human Rights, and War Cinema in Bangladesh, by Elora Halim Chowdhury, illuminates how visual practices of recollecting violent legacies in Bangladeshi cinema can generate possibilities for gender justice.

“This book enables a timely understanding of contemporary Bangladesh through the cinematic lens of 1971.—Nayanika Mookherjee, Professor of Political Anthropology at Durham University, UK

Read more here
Giving Back: Filipino America and the Politics of Diaspora Giving, by L. Joyce Zapanta Mariano, explores transnational giving practices as political projects that shape the Filipino diaspora.

Giving Back is a compelling ethnography about the politics of diaspora giving, tying the personal, the family, the community, the state, and the global in a critical stroke of brilliance, empathy, and alternative visions of philanthropy and volunteerism in the lives of Filipinos in America….Mariano’s critical examination of the politics of diaspora giving is a must-read for Filipinos and anyone participating in transnational philanthropy.”—Pacific Historical Review

Read more here
Reencounters: On the Korean War and Diasporic Memory Critique, by Crystal Mun-hye Baik, examines the insidious ramifications of the un-ended Korean War through an interdisciplinary archive of diasporic memory works. 

Crystal Baik’s Reencounters offers a vital archive of desire, violence, silence, and decolonial possibility while crafting a much-needed critical framework for thinking and feeling through the diasporic memory work of contemporary Korean/American artists and cultural producers.”Eleana Kim, University of California, Irvine

Read more here
BIOGRAPHY
 
Prisoner of Wars: A Hmong Fighter Pilot’s Story of Escaping Death and Confronting Life, by Chia Youyee Vang, with Pao Yang, Retired Captain, U.S. Secret War in Laos, recounts the life of Pao Yang, whose experiences defy conventional accounts of the Vietnam War.

“It is rare to read personal accounts from those who fought as surrogate soldiers of the American Armed Forces in Laos and to hear about the experiences of our T-28 pilots, because so many of them were killed during the war. Vang did a wonderful job of capturing the experiences of Pao Yang, one of the Hmong T-28 pilots who was shot down and captured by the communists. I will definitely use this book as a requirement for my Introduction to Hmong History class.”—Lee Pao Xiong, Director and Professor of the Center for Hmong and East Asian Studies, Concordia University

Read more here
Water Thicker Than Blood: A Memoir of a Post-Internment Childhood, by George Uba, is an evocative yet unsparing examination of the damaging effects of post-internment ideologies of acceptance and belonging experienced by a Japanese American family.

This is a lovely addition to the rich literature somehow created out of a moment in history where an entire generation of Japanese Americans had every dream they’d ever had taken from them, all at once.”—Cynthia Kadohata, Newbery Medal– and National Book Award–winning author of Kira-Kira and The Thing about Luck

Read more here
Elaine Black Yoneda: Jewish Immigration, Labor Activism, and Japanese American Exclusion and Incarceration, by Rachel Schreiber, recounts the remarkable story of a Jewish activist who joined her incarcerated Japanese American husband and son in an American concentration camp.
 
“Rachel Schreiber, an expert on Jewish women labor activists, presents a highly useful biographical sketch of an important figure in Elaine Black Yoneda. Avoiding the extremes of mythologizing or demonizing her subject, she offers a balanced account that historians specializing in women’s history, labor history, and Japanese American history will heartily welcome to the scholarly works in these areas of inquiry.“—Brian Hayashi, Professor of History at Kent State University

Read more here
LITERARY STUDIES 
Warring Genealogies: Race, Kinship, and the Korean War, by Joo Ok Kim, examines the racial legacies of the Korean War through Chicano/a cultural production and U.S. archives of white supremacy.

“Crucially, Kim’s juxtaposition and brilliant analysis of unlikely archival materials and cultural texts make an original and exceedingly important contribution to our understandings of the links between the Korean War and U.S. racial, carceral, and settler colonial formations. This is a rigorous and impressive interdisciplinary cultural study.”—Jodi Kim, Associate Professor of Media and Cultural Studies at the University of California, Riverside

Read more here
Q & A: Voices from Queer Asian North America, Edited by Martin F. Manalansan IV, Alice Y. Hom, and Kale Bantigue Fajardo, Preface by David L. Eng, offers a vibrant array of scholarly and personal essays, poetry, and visual art that broaden ideas and experiences about contemporary LGBTQ Asian North America

“[T]hese voices from queer Asian North America attest to the brilliance, fierceness, and raucous pleasures of queer diasporic world-making, theorizing, and cultural production. A landmark achievement.”—Gayatri Gopinath, Professor in the Department of Social and Cultural Analysis and Director of the Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality at New York University

Read more here
Ocean Passages: Navigating Pacific Islander and Asian American Literatures, by Erin Suzuki, compares and contrasts the diverse experiences of Asian and Pacific Islander subjectivities across a shared sea.

Ocean Passages demonstrates how transpacific studies can evolve and continue to be a generative framing for counterhegemonic, decolonial research across disciplines.” —Lateral

Read more here
Unsettled Solidarities: Asian and Indigenous Cross-Representations in the Américas, by Quynh Nhu Le, illuminates the intersecting logics of settler colonialism and racialization through analysis of contemporary Asian and Indigenous crossings in the Américas.
Association for Asian American Studies’ Humanities and Cultural Studies: Literary Studies Book Award, 2021

Read more here
Graphic Migrations: Precarity and Gender in India and the Diaspora, by Kavita Daiya, examines “what remains” in migration stories surrounding the 1947 Partition of India.

“Daiya’swide scholarly purview ranges across literature, cinema, graphic novels, and the creative arts, as she assembles a rich archive of contemporary reflection and critical relevance.”— Homi K. Bhabha, Anne F. Rothenberg Professor of the Humanities, Harvard University

Read more here

What Representations of Disability Add to Postcolonial Literature

This week in North Philly Notes, Christopher Krentz, author of Elusive Kinship: Disability and Human Rights in Postcolonial Literature, writes about the significance and utility of disabled characters in novels from the Global South.

About two decades ago, the scholar Ato Quayson noted that postcolonial literature is full of disabled characters, an intriguing insight that sent me searching for examples. Among those I quickly found:

  • In Chinua Achebe’s classic novel about Nigeria, Things Fall Apart (1958), the Igbo clan’s formidable war medicine is associated with a one-legged woman;
  • A partially deaf, cracking, impaired character narrates Salman Rushdie’s Booker-Prize-winning Midnight’s Children (1981); incredibly, he connects telepathically with other children born in the first hour of India’s independence;
  • Nobel laureate J. M. Coetzee’s Life & Times of Michael K (1983) focuses on a cognitively disabled man of color who traverses through a war-torn South Africa and is beset by hunger;
  • Edwidge Danticat’s story “Caroline’s Wedding,” from her collection Krik? Krak! (1996) tells of a beloved Haitian-American sister in New York City who has a missing forearm;
  • Anita Desai’s Fasting, Feasting (1999) recounts how an ungainly disabled daughter in small-town India is largely kept out of sight by her upper-middle-class family;
  • In Chris Abani’s short novel Song for Night (2007), the narrator is a boy soldier in a war in Nigeria who has had his vocal cords severed and communicates with others through an improvised sign language;
  • The narrator of Indra Sinha’s Animal’s People (2007) is an exuberant boy in India who has a bent spine and goes around on all fours as a result of a chemical plant disaster;
  • The story in Petina Gappah’s The Book of Memory (2015) is related by an albino woman in Zimbabwe who encounters both intense stigma rooted in traditional metaphysical beliefs and unexpected kindness.

And there are so many more examples! 

The examples made me realize that, far from being incidental, disabled characters are integral to the energy and vitality of literature in English from the Global South. These are great stories, and part of their greatness is how writers repeatedly deploy disability in creative, original ways. Through figures of disability, authors make any number of pressing topics more vivid, including such issues as the effects of colonialism and apartheid, global capitalism, racism and sexism, war, and environmental disaster. 

Furthermore, even at their most fantastic, such representations relate to the more than half a billion disabled people who live in the Global South, often in precarious circumstances. Disabled character can be both realistic and metaphorical.

In 2006, a few years after Quayson’s observation, the United Nations adopted its first human rights treaty of the twenty-first century: the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). I began to wonder if the prominence of disability in postcolonial literature should be linked to the gradual and global emergence of rights for disabled people—especially since both happened concurrently in the last half century or so. The representation of disabled people in this literature, I concluded, both directed and reflected this change in how disabled people are seen. 

In the last fifteen years, a new interdisciplinary field, the study of human rights and literature, has drawn connections and examined relations between fiction and human rights issues. As Joseph Slaughter puts it in Human Rights Inc., fiction—especially the bildungsroman in his case—is uniquely about rights as it typically serves to portray the relationship of an individual to society. Scholars in the field have used literature to explore the paradoxes surrounding human rights. Most of all, they show that literature can serve as a valuable form of witnessing human rights violations, making such issues more personal to readers in different times and places and compelling them to care. The first step in achieving rights, advocates realized back in the 1960s, is not laws or treaties but rather winning the public’s imagination.

While the study of human rights and literature has frequently dealt with postcolonial literature, it has not had much to say about disability. I hope Elusive Kinship can begin to fill that lacuna, enhancing our appreciation of literature in English from the Global South and nudging us toward making the world more hospitable for everyone.

Blind Author and Publisher Make Are You Two Sisters? Accessible

This week in North Philly Notes, Susan Krieger, author of Are You Two Sisters?, addresses the need for books to be made available in formats for the blind and others with print disabilities.

Because I am blind as well as a writer and a sociologist, each time I have a new book about to be published, I must take steps to make sure that book will be available for others like me, who are blind or have challenges in reading print.

In writing my books and articles, I use a screen reader: a computer program that translates text to speech. It reads aloud to me all the text on the screen, the dialog boxes, and the keystrokes as I type them. I hear my words spoken aloud rather than visually seeing them. As I wrote my latest book, Are You Two Sisters? The Journey of a Lesbian Couple, I listened intently to the words on the page as I typed them, going over and over the text of the book in my mind after hearing it spoken to me, making my revisions as needed.

When I submitted the final book manuscript to Temple University Press for copyediting and subsequent production, I was anxious about how the process would go. Would the copyeditor be responsive to my needs for a different way of entering proposed changes than is usually used for sighted authors? Would the final published book be one that I, a blind author, could easily read and be proud to disseminate to blind and print-disabled readers?

I am happy to say that Temple University Press has been extremely generous in assisting me in enabling the production of accessible versions of Are You Two Sisters? for the blind and print-disabled. The Press has made special efforts on my behalf through each stage of the production process—ensuring that the copyeditor would be sensitive to my needs for alternate ways of entering changes on the manuscript; preparing the typography of the book design in a manner that a person using a screen reader can accurately navigate; assigning a remediation specialist to work with me to produce an accessible ADA compliant PDF version of the book; and facilitating my production of an independent audiobook edition.

As a result, Are You Two Sisters? is now available in several alternate formats for blind and print-disabled readers. An accessible PDF and Word version can be obtained from the publisher or author; a Daisy digital text, Braille ready Format, or an ePub version can be obtained from Bookshare.org; and an independent audiobook version can be enjoyed through Audible.

Blind readers are well aware that the PDFs of books and articles are often hard to navigate. Although they look fine to sighted readers, the hidden codes or choices that have gone into these documents may be poorly executed and nonstandard and may pose overwhelming barriers to reading. Each time I have a new book published, I become painfully aware of those barriers and seek to overcome them.

I strongly believe that all print materials should be as accessible for blind and disabled readers as they are for the sighted. Sadly, in our world of abundant print—both in books and online—the playing field is not level. Most of the print in the world that is available to the sighted is not equally accessible to the blind. This is something that needs to be changed, but that will only happen when requirements for equal access are enforced and when authors and producers of print materials embark on the task of finding new ways of making information accessible. I am grateful to Temple University Press for allowing me to guide the accessibility process, and I hope that readers will enjoy Are You Two Sisters? in one of its several formats!

Caring Beside: Metaphors of Solidarity at the Bedside

This week in North Philly Notes, James Kyung-Jin Lee, author of Pedagogies of Woundedness, writes about “the horizontal ethics of care and politics of resistance” as well as the power that can come from the person lying on the bed.

            

In the epilogue of Pedagogies of Woundedness, I cite the opening scene of Johanna Hedva’s “Sick Woman Theory,” in which they describe listening to the sounds of a 2014 Black Lives Matter protest taking place outside their apartment, while Hedva was consigned to a bed because of a chronic illness: “Attached to the bed, I rose up my sick woman fist, in solidarity.” They then wonder what role ill/disabled people might play in revolutionary activity: “How do you throw a brick through the window of a bank if you can’t get out of bed?” Such a question resonates with a corresponding image that Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha conjures in her essay “Crip Superpowers,” that implores her readers and fellow activists to imagine, “We can community-organize flat on our ass in bed—as what the movement needs most.”

The horizontal body in space and time is the prevailing image of the patient consigned to the hospital bed that animates so much of the crucible of experience that animates physician memoirs, the contrast between the standing, able-bodied doctor hovering over, caring, surveilling, and enacting on the prone one in need of care and thus submitting to such diagnostic colonization. It is this asymmetry of power exemplified in bodily position that motivates both Hedva and Piepzna-Samarasinha to see the bedridden Asian American sick woman as nonetheless agentive. Here, I also take to heart Mel Chen’s meditation on Piepzna-Samarasinha’s insistence on a politics enabled “flat on our ass in bed” by their subtle but trenchant critique of the most widely used phrase to demonstrate solidarity with a cause or community or condition: “The grammar of ableist liberatory fervor is succinctly captured, for instance, in the widespread use today of declamatory campaigns that urge one to metaphorically ‘stand with’ various populations or politicians. Such a metaphor is constructed on the figurative imagining of a literal standing. The question becomes what might it mean to ‘stand with’ a figural group, when standing for wheelchair users, or those chronically ill ‘flat on our ass in bed,’ cannot readily invite such ‘politically aligned’ embodied action.” At the time of this writing, my social media feed is filled with posts that stand with the people of Ukraine, stand with LGBTQ+ kids in Florida and trans children in Texas, and of course all through the pandemic we were ostensibly standing with health care workers toiling in the desperate days and weeks of the worst of the COVID pandemic. I suppose that the lack of shortage of people standing with others is a small testament that wounded, vulnerable people receive some modicum of compassion that isn’t tethered to market forces or transactional expectation.

But Chen’s, Hedva’s, and Piepzna-Samarasinha’s insistence on a horizontal ethics of care and politics of resistance have hit home in ways that exceeded my imagination once the final draft of Pedagogies of Woundedness was locked. The following is a story which I have permission to disclose: a year ago, our older teenage daughter attempted suicide and in doing so revealed that she had been suffering from severe mental illness and associated trauma for years, unbeknownst to me and her mom. What followed was a long flight of various treatments, both outpatient and residential, and our family’s baptism into the world of mental health care. There have been and continue to be moments of crisis that punctuate periods of relative mental and emotional stability, and some rare moments of happiness for my daughter, and for the other members of the family. Early on, I clung to a restitution narrative, but we’re late into this story and I recognize now that my daughter is living a different genre. Early on, I stood over her bed desperately wishing she could join me, despairing that the aggressivity of her depression prevented her from even remaining conscious for hours at a time. Over time, I came to understand that standing with my daughter when she couldn’t get out of bed wasn’t all that much different from the physician’s diagnostic colonization of his patient.

So I’ve tried to shift my body and my metaphor to align with where my daughter is on any given day. On really tough days, as she lies in bed, I’ll sometimes lie on the floor and listen to the quiet sounds of her breathing. At moments when she is able to sit at her desk and is willing to let me into her space, I’ll pull up a chair: sometimes we sit face to face and at others side by side, as if we’re facing the world together. Stories of illness and disability, and the politics and ethics that emanate from these stories, the power that can come from the person lying on the bed, have taught me that there is and must be always more room to imagine solidarity with the vulnerable. Nowadays, I will only stand with people, like my daughter, if they want to stand, and if they give me permission to rise with them, if they let me take their hand into mine.

Celebrating Women’s History Month

This week in North Philly Notes, we celebrate Women’s History Month. Use promo code TWHM22 for 30% off all our Women’s Studies titles. Sale ends March 31, 2022.

New Titles

Elaine Black Yoneda: Jewish Immigration, Labor Activism, and Japanese American Exclusion and Incarceration, by Rachel Schreiber, recounts the remarkable story of a Jewish activist who joined her incarcerated Japanese American husband and son in an American concentration camp.

Are You Two Sisters: The Journey of a Lesbian Couple, by Susan Krieger, authored by one of the most respected figures in the field of personal ethnographic narrative, this book serves as both a memoir and a sociological study, telling the story of one lesbian couple’s lifelong journey together.

From our Backlist:

Anna May Wong: Performing the Modern, by Shirley Jennifer Lim, shows how Anna May Wong’s work shaped racial modernity and made her one of the most significant actresses of the twentieth century.

The Cost of Being a Girl: Working Teens and the Origins of the Gender Wage Gap, by Yasemin Besen-Cassino, traces the origins of the gender wage gap to part-time teenage work, which sets up a dynamic that persists into adulthood.

Feminist Post-Liberalism, by Judith Baer, reconciles liberalism and feminist theory.

Feminist Reflections on Childhood: A History and Call to Action, by Penny A. Weiss, recovers a history of feminist thought and activism that demands greater voice and respect for young people.

Good Reasons to Run: Women and Political Candidacy, edited by Shauna L. Shames, Rachel I. Bernhard, Mirya R. Holman, and Dawn Langan Teele, how and why women run for office.

Gross Misbehavior and Wickedness: A Notorious Divorce in Early Twentieth-Century America, by Jean Elson, a fascinating story of the troubled marriage and acrimonious divorce of Nina and James Walker elucidates early twentieth-century gender and family mores.

Motherlands: How States Push Mothers Out of Employment, by Leah Ruppanner challenges preconceived notions of the states that support working mothers.

Savoring the Salt: The Legacy of Toni Cade Bambara, edited by Linda Janet Holmes and Cheryl A. Wall, an anthology that celebrates the life and work of a major African American writer.

Their Day in the Sun: Women in the Manhattan Project, by Ruth H. Howes and Caroline C. Herzenberg, tells the hidden story of the contribution of women in the effort to develop the atomic bomb.

Undermining Intersectionality: The Perils of Powerblind Feminism, by Barbara Tomlinson, a sustained critique of the ways in which scholars have engaged with and deployed intersectionality.

Women Take Their Place in State Legislature: The Creation of Women’s Caucuses, by Anna Mitchell Mahoney, investigates the opportunities, resources, and frames that women utilize to create legislative caucuses.

Women’s Empowerment and Disempowerment in Brazil: The Rise and Fall of President Dilma Rousseff, by Pedro A.G. dos Santos and Farida Jalalzai, explains what the rise and fall of Brazil’s first and only female president can teach us about women’s empowerment.

The (real) cost of living with dignity

This week in North Philly Notes, Lisa Iezzoni, author of Making Their Days Happen, writes about the personal and political implications of home-based supportive services and the workforce available to meet this need.

Although it sounds like hyperbole, Nelita kept my friend Michael alive. Michael is completely paralyzed below his neck from primary progressive multiple sclerosis (MS), but he  has a happy life. Because of disability, he had to retire from being a physics professor and lives alone, in a modest home adapted for disability accessibility. Nevertheless, when we met in 2009, his power wheelchair had over 2,500 miles on its odometer, and if the weather cooperated, he spent his days rolling about his community, doing errands, auditing classes at the local university, and taking the train into nearby New York City to visit museums, attend concerts, or ride through Central Park. Michael couldn’t do any of this without Nelita.

Michael needs support for all activities of daily living (ADLs)—feeding, bathing, toileting, dressing, and moving in and out of his wheelchair—and Nelita was his primary personal care assistant (PCA). She arrived every morning at 6:00 am; got him out of bed using his automated, ceiling-mounted lift; assisted him with toileting, showering, and shaving; dressed him; got him set up in his power wheelchair, with its complicated electronics; made and fed him breakfast; and tidied up his bathroom, bedroom, and kitchen before rushing off, with kind parting words, to her second job (a Haitian immigrant, Nelita always juggled two or three jobs). Nelita worked for one of those franchise home-based personal care agencies with a warm and fuzzy name that have sprung up nationwide, and she received a fraction of the hourly fee Michael paid them. When, after several years, Michael’s MS progressed and he needed more PCA hours, he could no longer afford the agency. He finally enrolled in a tightly managed care insurance plan that covered his PCAs, and Nelita changed jobs to stay with him. She—and a team of other PCAs—not only keep Michael alive but support his ability to live his life as he wishes, with dignity.

Nelita, in turn, found her work with Michael personally rewarding. She knew that Michael valued her immeasurably and could not get by without her support. But personal assistance services jobs typically have low wages, meager benefits, scant societal respect, and are viewed as low skilled “women’s work.” However, providing personal care assistance is physically and emotionally demanding and requires navigation of complex and intimate relationships with consumers. It also demands keen observational skills and judgment. PCAs can identify consumers’ new health problems early, thus sometime preventing worsening disease and hospitalization. Nevertheless, by standard metrics, providing personal care assistance—which keeps people with significant disability alive and living with dignity—engenders little dignity for its practitioners, who are predominantly women, people of color, and often immigrants. Immigrants especially risk exploitation from private-pay consumers desperate for ADL supports but unwilling or unable to pay even the routine low wages.

Today, about 17 million Americans living in their homes need assistance with daily activities because of disability. These numbers will grow as baby boomers age. Most people receive assistance from family member or friends. However, as for Michael, when no one is available to provide this support, paid PCAs fill the need. In 2019, approximately 2.3 million workers provided home-based care, broadly defined, and job positions are expected to climb substantially in coming years. But the PCA workforce, with its low wages and high turnover (exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic), cannot keep pace with increasing demand.

Much has been written about the impending gap between the need for home-based supportive services and the workforce available to meet this need. Over the last two decades, blue ribbon commissions of experts have convened to discuss this and other imminent crises of long-term services and supports in America. Yet something has been missing from their copious reports and pronouncements: the voices of PCA consumers with significant disability and of PCAs. Also missing were detailed descriptions of exactly how consumers and PCAs approach their intimate interactions in consumers’ bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchens, and behind closed doors, and what dignity looks like day-to-day to consumers and to workers.

A reality in the U.S. is that money is the starting point for achieving the dignity objectives for both PCA consumers and PCAs. Many Americans erroneously believe that Medicare—federal health insurance for older people and former workers under age 65 with disability—pays for in-home ADL supports. It does not, except in narrow circumstances. Many consumers can only obtain the services they need by getting Medicaid (the joint federal-state health insurance program for low-income people), a difficult process with benefits varying widely across states. Even in more generous states, Medicaid budget limitations and complex policies mean that today about 800,000 people are on waiting lists to receive home-based services under Medicaid. President Biden’s Build Back Better plan—passed by the U.S. House of Representatives but currently stalled in the Senate—includes funding to provide in-home supports to older people and people with disability and to increase wages of home care workers. Build Back Better focuses on Medicaid-funded home-based supports, so it will not assist everyone needing these services, but it is a start.

To introduce the missing voices mentioned above, Making Their Days Happen uses interviews of PCA consumers and PCAs to tell their stories, putting these essential ADL support activities into current health and labor policy contexts. It also provides advice for people who might need personal care assistance services for themselves or a family member. Like any intensely intimate human interactions, providing and receiving ADL support can be interpersonally complex. Although PCA consumers and PCAs approach these services from different perspectives, both the benefits and challenges of paid personal care assistance distill down to a single word, dignity. For PCA consumers with significant disability, despite their physical vulnerabilities, dignity means having their wishes respected, all the way from how mundane ADL tasks are performed to supporting their preferences for how they live their lives, participate in community activities, and maximize their quality of life. For PCAs, dignity means societal recognition and respect for the crucial work they perform, plus a living wage, paid sick leave and vacations, safe working conditions, and the training and skills advancement to build a career.

%d bloggers like this: