Most of my readers know me as the author of Writing as a Sacred Path, but long before I wrote that book, I published my first.
No Walls of Stone: An Anthology of Literature by Deaf and Hard of Hearing Writers came out in 1992, and, to my great pride and delight, is still selling. It was a work straight from my own experience.
I started losing my hearing in my early teens. My hearing loss wasn’t particularly serious at first—which is fortunate, since my mother ignored the note the school sent her after a routine screening exam (Mom was a bit distracted in those days). Five years later, when my hearing had deteriorated to the point where I couldn’t understand my professors, I took myself to an audiologist and began a lifelong odyssey of hearing aids and ear surgeries. At one point, my hearing was so bad that, without my aids, I could stand next to a TV playing at full volume and not hear a sound.
Today, thanks to powerful digital hearing aids and several skilled surgeons, I get along fine in most situations, and people sometimes don’t even know I have a hearing loss. But my brush with deafness left me intrigued with those who live life without the use of their ears.
The Deaf community is a thriving, energetic collection of people spread throughout the U.S. and united by two things: a common language—American Sign Language—and the conviction that deafness is not a disability, but a culture. According to members of the community, deafness is only an inconvenience when hearing people make it so. Otherwise, it is merely a difference—one that has given rise to a unique lifestyle and a rich artistic heritage.
It was my fascination with that heritage that led me to the idea of putting together a collection of writings from the Deaf community. It felt like a risk. I wasn’t sure I would find enough deaf writers to fill an anthology or locate a publisher that would be interested in such a book. I wasn’t even sure that anyone would want to read a book by deaf authors. But I was in love with the project and determined to see it through.
Since it was before the Internet became a household tool, I had to find deaf clubs, organizations, and schools one by one and send them flyers to post asking for submissions from deaf writers. I put notices in newsletters like SHHH (Self Help for Hard of Hearing People) and a series of print ads in the Deaf American, a magazine published by the National Association of the Deaf.
I began to get submissions immediately, and before long they became a flood. I didn’t even have to look for a publisher: When an editor at Gallaudet University Press saw one of my ads, she wrote to me asking to see what I had. Gallaudet added beautiful photography and published No Walls of Stone the following year.
The book came out to rave reviews. The American Academy of Family Physicians made it recommended reading for doctors who treat deaf and hard of hearing patients. The Texas State Board for Educator Certification chose it as preparation for the American Sign Language section of the teachers’ certification exam. It was reviewed by The Washington Post with glowing words: “The poetry in this first-of-its-kind anthology . . . shows that rhythm and inspiration can flourish in the absence of hearing,” and Library Journal said, “This landmark anthology deserves a wide readership.”
Am I shamelessly self-promoting here? Perhaps. But the credit for the book’s success doesn’t have much to do with me. It was all due to the poets and writers who contributed to the book. They were the ones who deserve the praise: All I did was provide a platform.
Just read some of their words:
I have learned
How written words can thrill the inner ear . . .
In silent study I have learned to tell
Each secret shade of meaning and to hear
A magic harmony . . .
(From "On His Deafness" by Robert Panara).
In a poem dedicated to the man who taught her to sign, Anne MacDonald writes,
You’re stirring an orchestra inside of me . . .
My fingers splay into signals. You will
Teach them to talk and I’ll fold my hands
Into a sign I haven’t seen yet.
Willy Conley’s award-winning play The Hearing Test tells of a boy’s heart-wrenching experience with a well-meaning mother and a brutal audiologist—and challenges the controversial technique of cochlear implant, which can give limited hearing to some deaf people, thus depriving them of an essential part of their identity. A selection of Hannah Merker’s memoir Listening, which was later published to high praise from the New York Times, explores life from the perspective of a woman who lost her hearing in adulthood. And Raymond Luczak writes about his experience as a gay deaf writer. These are just a few of the remarkable authors who contributed their work to No Walls of Stone.
Today, more than twenty years after it was first published, I still hear from people who have discovered a new world in No Walls of Stone. Few things make me prouder than to have introduced readers to the work of these talented writers.
Causes Jill Jepson Supports
Humane Society of the United States, Defenders of Wildlife, Interational Society for the Protection of Burros and Mustangs, National Wildlife Federation,...