Welcome to the first inaugural #CripLit Keys, awards for representations of disability in storytelling. This presentation is available in video (just down the page a little bit), podcast (above and on all good podcasting platforms) as well as in text format. (Acceptance speeches aren’t in text format at this time.)
In 2016 I announced that the following year I would start these awards. Unfortunately life promptly kneecapped me.
2020 felt like a dumpster fire in a flood for many people. This, ironically, inspired me to follow through on these awards: we need to celebrate. Let’s find things to celebrate. The CripLit Keys are a celebration of good representation of disability!
These awards are for stories first published in 2019 plus there is one “retrospective” award for stories first published prior to these awards. These stories can be in any medium but, this year, they’re all books.
I note here that, although I reached out to various people, only one person – Paul Darke – responded. Therefore, I named these awards with the best intentions but without permission. Should people object, please raise your objections with me.
Donna Haraway Award: 2020 #CripLit Keys
Wikipedia says (edited and partially paraphrased):
Donna Haraway wrote “A Cyborg Manifesto” and the Socialist Review published it in 1985. She uses the concept of the cyborg to reject rigid boundaries, particularly those separating “human” from “animal” and “human” from “machine”. The “Manifesto” criticizes traditional notions of feminism, particularly feminist focuses on identity politics, and encourages instead coalition through affinity. She uses the figure of the cyborg to urge feminists to move beyond the limitations of traditional gender, feminism, and politics.
Basically, if all the minorities of the world united, we’d be a majority. And we could get shit done.
When you combine Haraway’s cyborg manifesto with disability studies, you get cyborgs – because most if not all disabled people are cyborgs in one form or another – who are equally human with all the other equally humans.
The inaugural winner of the Donna Haraway Award includes cyborgs of many kinds, including a person who is, effectively, a quadriplegic using a wheelchair. However, none of the other characters considers him to be “wheelchair bound”. Just like no one considers a nondisabled person to be “mobile phone bound” or “car bound”.
Congratulations to John Birmingham for The Cruel Stars.
Details about making the Donna Haraway Award will be here at 6am.)
Paul Darke Award: 2020 #CripLit Keys
Congratulations again to John Birmingham and I look forward to your next book.
Disability Studies is a relatively new field, really only 30 years old and omitted altogether by many universities. In the 1990s, researchers and activists began discussing the prevalence of stories with disabled people where the disabled character ended by either being killed, moving away geographically or being assimilated due to their own personal efforts and not due to society providing disability access. In Tom Shakespeare’s 1999 book, Paul Darke named this the “normality drama” genre.
Paul joins us. Welcome Paul.
It is my pleasure to award Dawnhounds by Sascha Stronach the Paul Darke Award for writing numerous disabled characters but especially a character who acquires a disability during the book, who resists being sidelined and written out of the story, and who continues as a character with agency. Congratulations Sascha!
Details about making the Paul Darke Award will be here at 6:30 am.)
Stella Young Award: 2020 #CripLit Keys
Thank you Sascha!
Next is the Stella Young Award. Stella Young was a disability activist who died too soon in 2014, aged 32. As an activist, Stella made quite the impact. Her TedX speech, since incorporated into Ted Talks, is “I am not your inspiration”. In her gentle and polite manner, Stella railed against the tendency of nondisabled people to use disabled people as inspiration, particularly the “if that disabled person can do that, then I can do this”. Disabled people, when not portrayed as villains “because defective body symbolises character defects”, are often used as inspiration by nondisabled storytellers who too often win awards for their writing and, when portrayed by nondisabled actors, for the acting.
Thus the Stella Young Award goes to a story representing disability, potentially educating about disability, but without “inspiration” and other patronising overtones.
Consistently writing disability, by a disabled person
Jo Spurrier’s books consistently include disabled characters. Each and every one of these characters is consistent. There is no character with a shattered knee who, by sheer willpower, walks up a flight of steps and wins a fight against a villain. Sometimes characters can exceed their normal capability, like the senior Blackbone witch, Aleida, in Daughter of Lies and Ruin. Sometimes, through use of magic, Aleida can briefly function as if her feet are not disabled. However, there is always a cost to using this magic, rendering Aleida exhausted and ill for some time afterwards. Many people with various types of disability can identify: it’s possible to push ourselves beyond our limits briefly but there is a price to pay. For me, it’s headaches and worse than usual vision, sometimes for hours, sometimes for several days.
I love that Aleida is an active, significant character with a consistent disability that reflects – in some ways – my personal experience of disability and the experiences of other disabled people with different disabilities.
And Daughter of Lies and Ruin is, I believe, Jo Spurrier’s fifth book. Every one of Spurrier’s novels represents disability in various ways, with every character’s disability consistent and relatable.
It is my pleasure to award Jo Spurrier the Stella Young Award for representation and education without inspiration.
Details about making the Stella Young Award will be here at 7am.)
Helen Keller (retro) Award: 2020 #CripLit Keys
Thank you, Jo Spurrier, and congratulations! The next award is the Helen Keller Award. I chose this name because, when I was in primary school in a mainstream school, I found a biography of Helen Keller for children in the library. This was the first time I’d found any character with whom I could identify as vision impaired. I read and reread that novel over the next few years. The story was, in many ways, problematic: after all, Keller was completely blind and deaf unlike me; she was what we call a “supercrip” so she’s used for “inspiration porn” these days; and, because she broke new ground for disabled people, she didn’t offer any hints for having a career. However, she was my first. And, being historical, she seemed appropriate name for this award.
The Helen Keller Award is a retrospective award given to stories with representations of disability that pre-date these awards.
Just like Helen Keller’s children’s biography was a first for me, so was the story receiving this award. I bought this book from Dymocks in Tea Tree Plaza back in 2007, in an era I was struggling to read without disability access. However, this book was worth the effort.
Bareback, or Benighted as it’s called outside of Australia, is a story about werewolves. The author Kit Whitfield turned the trope on its head: anyone who is not a werewolf is considered disabled, is shunned, lives on a low income and has unique battles. This is ironic considering this society needs people who are not werewolves to keep everyone safe during the full moon. So few people are disabled that doctors deliberately cause this disability during childbirth.
There are so many parallels between Bareback / Benighted and disability in the real world that this story blew me away. Since I was 4, I believed speculative fiction done well portrays the human condition and holds a mirror up to society. This book, however, took these discussions to a new level. Thirteen years later, I’m still excited about it.
So today I award the Helen Keller Award to Kit Whitfield for Benighted and Bareback.
(Details about creating the physical award will be here at 7:30 am.)
Triantiwontigongolope Award: 2020 #CripLit Keys
Congratulations Kit Whitfield! I’m looking forward to your next book.
Last but by no means least, is the Triantiwontigongolope Award for representation of disability with hope and joy.
The background to this award: when I was about 4, my father bought me a book of poetry. One of the poems was CJ Dennis’s Triantiwontigongolope. As it’s now out of copyright, I’ve included it at the bottom of this post. When my father instructed me to read it to him, I argued because it was too hard. I wanted to read something easier, so I said it was silly. My father told me to ponder what that world – a world where the trees and grass were purple, and the sky was bottle green – would be like. I asked if I could be normal there. He said yes. I’ve loved speculative fiction ever since, because there’s the hope of being accepted in a diverse world.
A story full of hope
A Lifetime of Impossible Days is a story full of hope, working through adversity towards healing and acceptance. The central characters have PTSD and Silver Willa also has Alzheimer’s. Through re-parenting herself – a real counselling technique with added magical realism making that re-parenting more real – the Willas find healing and experience joy despite their trauma.
This story is relatable in many ways, especially in the knowledge that, according to research, at least 1 in 9 girls experiences childhood sexual assault. Figures for all kinds of abuse are higher for disabled people and especially disabled women and girls.
Tabitha Bird has taken a difficult subject and written sensitively with no depiction of sexual assault although the reader knows it occurred. Her three central characters experience the fallout from that and other traumas and find healing. All the way through, this novel surprised me at how Tabitha took such a dark subject and wrote such joy that she imbued me with hope.
Congratulations Tabitha Bird.
The Triantiwontigongolope Award with details about the arduous creation process is here. Or, at least, it will be at 8am.
Wrap up for the 2020 #CripLit Keys
Thank you all for coming and congratulations. Please tell us about your next book, which I’m looking forward to.
Thanks again for coming. Listeners and readers, thanks for joining us. At this stage I don’t know who will be my next podcast guest so watch this space. Stay safe. And have a merry Christmas, a happy holiday, and enjoy yourself!
Triantiwontigongolope by CJ Dennis
There’s a very funny insect that you do not often spy,
And it isn’t quite a spider, and it isn’t quite a fly;
It is something like a beetle, and a little like a bee,
But nothing like a wooly grub that climbs upon a tree.
Its name is quite a hard one, but you’ll learn it soon, I hope.
It lives on weeds and wattle-gum, and has a funny face;
Its appetite is hearty, and its manners a disgrace.
When first you come upon it, it will give you quite a scare,
But when you look for it again, you find it isn’t there.
And unless you call it softly it will stay away and mope.
It trembles if you tickle it or tread upon its toes;
It is not an early riser, but it has a snubbish nose.
If you snear at it, or scold it, it will scuttle off in shame,
But it purrs and purrs quite proudly if you call it by its name,
And offer it some sandwiches of sealing-wax and soap.
But of course you haven’t seen it; and I truthfully confess
That I haven’t seen it either, and I don’t know its address.
For there isn’t such an insect, though there really might have been
If the trees and grass were purple, and the sky was bottle green.
It’s just a little joke of mine, which you’ll forgive, I hope.