Allison Renner – How I feel about books for those, and written by those with a disability

Allison Renner

 

 

 

You have a MLS degree from Texas Woman’s University School of Library and Information Studies and have a desire to specialise in delivering Library services for children with disabilities. Can you tell me more about this and the We Are Storytellers program?

 

I graduate with my master’s degree in library science in August; this summer I am completing the last step by doing an internship in my city’s library. They are allowing me to start a book club for adults with disabilities, and I’m so excited! I’ve previously volunteered and worked in a learning center for adults with disabilities, so I’m familiar with a certain group, but this book club will be open to the city’s population of adults with disabilities at large; I’m glad I’ll have a large audience for this because I think it’s necessary.

 

Library services for people with disabilities, period, are pretty lacking in this area; there is a sign language storytime sponsored by an outside organization, but the library doesn’t offer much. I am eager to start more programming like the previously mentioned book club, sensory storytimes, and more inclusive activities.

 

The We Are Storytellers program is something I started a few years ago as a volunteer at the learning center. I worked one on one with adults with disabilities to help them tell a story. If they could write and draw, they did it all, but if they needed help with the words, I would transcribe as they drew the illustrations and told the story to me. I was open to any type of story, but interestingly, each person told a fictional story, instead of one about themselves or their disability. I thought that shows a lot at how outsiders place so much importance on a disability, but the people who actually live with it don’t give it a second thought. We Are Storytellers was a great experience and I’m eager to start it up again as soon as possible.

 

2) I’m very impressed with your strong and enthusiastic social media presence with blog, podcasts and even YouTube videos. Can you give me the links of where we can find you, and tell me how this started out?

 

I’ve had a personal online journal since 2000 or so, sometimes public and sometimes private, so I’ve been familiar with blogging for quite awhile. I had to start a book review blog for a children’s literature class at school, so I went ahead and registered a domain name because I knew this is something I wanted to work hard on—for professional AND personal reasons. A few months in, I started an Instagram account with the blog’s name because I loved taking my own pictures of the books I reviewed on my blog. I was so happy to find that there’s an entire Instagram community that loves taking pictures of and talking about books, and they call themselves “bookstagram”. After I had that account for awhile, I noticed that some people would link to YouTube videos of them talking about books, so I watched a few and decided to try and create my own. There’s a whole community for that too, called “booktube”. I love making quick video reviews of books, but I found that I don’t LOVE being in front of the camera. I’ve subscribed to various podcasts for years now, so I decided to try my hand at that, too. It’s so much fun to have all of these outlets available to us via the internet, so I like trying them out to see what works best for me.

 

Blog: http://www.howifeelaboutbooks.com

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/howifeelaboutbooks/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/howifeelaboutbooks/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/hifabooks

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCD56dpQDUXE_GcVPeHUTjdg

Podcast (via iTunes): https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/how-i-feel-about-books/id1084125483

Podcast (via Podbean): http://howifeelaboutbooks.podbean.com

 

3) You are passionate about books with disabled characters/protagonists, and those books written by disabled authors. Why is this important for you? Do you think representation of disability is getting better?

 

I think books that have characters with disabilities help the public learn more about disabilities. It’s sad to say, but a lot of society is still ignorant about disabilities, and judgmental towards those people. I feel like not many people would research disabilities on their own, but if those characters are in fiction books, people will read these books and learn about disabilities without realizing they’re learning. I especially love books where the main character has a disability, and the story is told in first person, so the reader can really get inside their head and “feel” what it’s like to have a disability. I think that type of book impacts people the most and helps change their mindset. It’s important to me because I think people need to be more accepting. There was a push in this country to let gays marry, and now transgender issues are getting all of the attention; meanwhile, people with disabilities are still fighting for their civil rights. I think it’s an important issue to bring to the forefront.

 

I just read a graphic memoir about a girl who realizes she’s a lesbian when she’s fifteen, and the author said this in an interview:

“I’m really excited for the day when you can no longer presume that the protagonist is straight, or that they’re white, or that they have all their arms and legs. There’s this unwritten rule that the protagonist has to be a tabula rasa for you to be able to relate to them, and that a tabula rasa equals straight, equals white, and just that — it needs to, and everyone wants to be able to relate to other kinds of protagonists and other kinds of stories.” (link to article: http://www.mtv.com/news/2262523/maggie-thrash-interview/) I love how she stated things, and I think THAT is what needs to change in fiction—don’t assume every protagonist is X, Y, and Z. Go in not thinking about WHAT the person is and HOW you can label them, just realize they are a person.

 

4) Books written by disabled authors continue to be fairly rare, yet there is so much talent amongst the disabled community. How can we better support disabled writers on the road to publication?

 

I think it’s most important to judge books by their quality, regardless of who writes them. Unfortunately, that’s not the way most publishing companies work. They want big names for big sellers, or even celebrities who can’t write their own books. I think all we can do is show our support of writers who have disabilities; buy their books, read them, review them, recommend them, talk about them. That’s what I’m trying to do with my website and overall web presence.

 

My husband wants to start a publishing company that exclusively publishes books by people with disabilities. A portion of the sales would go to an organization of the author’s choice, related to that disability. I think it’s a great idea and I plan to help out with it as much as possible: editing the manuscripts, helping design the layout and covers, promoting it all over the internet and local scene… It might not make a huge impact, but it’s a start, and that’s all we can do. Hopefully, people like me and you and others can start a movement that raises awareness about people with disabilities and everything they’re actually able to do, and it will form a major support system (like your site!) that will help them reach their goals.

 

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