Plenary Talks

The End of Normal: Diversity, Disability and Neoliberalism

Lennard J. Davis, University of Illinois at Chicago
Thursday, 3/22 ~ 4 p.m.

In this talk, Lennard J. Davis will examine the relationship between diversity and disability. Is disability part of the diversity movement? Should it be? What are the factors leading to disability’s marginalization in the diversity paradigm? Is this problem reparable given the agenda of the diversity impulse?

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Lennard J. Davis is Professor in the English Department in the School of Arts and Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where he had also served as Head. In addition, he is Professor of Disability and Human Development in the School of Applied Health Sciences of the University of Illinois at Chicago, as well as Professor of Medical Education in the College of Medicine. He is also director of Project Biocultures a think-tank devoted to issues around the intersection of culture, medicine, disability, biotechnology, and the biosphere. Davis is the author of two works on the novel–Factual Fictions: The Origins of the English Novel (Columbia U. Press, 1983, rpt. University of Pennsylvania Press, 1996) and Resisting Novels: Fiction and Ideology (Routledge, 1987, rpt. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001) and co-editor of Left Politics and the Literary Profession. His works on disability include Enforcing Normalcy: Disability, Deafness, and the Body (Verso, 1995), which won the 1996 Gustavus Myers Center for the Study of Human Rights’ annual award for the best scholarship on the subject of intolerance in North America, and The Disability Studies Reader (Routledge, 1996). His memoir My Sense of Silence (University of Illinois Press, 2000), was chosen Editor’s Choice Book for the Chicago Tribune, selected for the National Book Award for 2000, and nominated for the Book Critics Circle Award for 2000. He has appeared on National Public Radio’s Fresh Air to discuss the memoir, which describes his childhood in a Deaf family. Davis has also edited his parents’ correspondence Shall I Say a Kiss: The Courtship Letters of a Deaf Couple, 1936-38 (Gallaudet University Press, 1999). Davis is a co-founder of the Modern Language Association’s Committee on Disability Issues in the Profession, and he is on the board of several academic journals. Having written widely for newspapers and magazines, Davis is also the author of a novel entitled The Sonnets (State University of New York Press, March 2001). A collection of his essays entitled Bending Over Backwards: Disability, Dismodernism, and Other Difficult Positions was published by New York University Press in August 2002. He was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2002-2003 for Obsession: A History (University of Chicago Press, 2008). His book Go Ask Your Father: One Man’s Obsession to Find Himself, His Origins, and the Meaning of Life Through Genetic Testing will be published in 2009 by Random House. He has written numerous articles in The Nation, The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, The Chronicle of Higher Education and other print media. Davis has also been a commentator on National Public Radio’s All Things Considered, and appeared on Morning Edition, This American Life, Odyssey, The Leonard Lopate Show and other NPR affiliates. His current interests include disability-related issues; literary and cultural theory; genetics, race, identity; and biocultural issues.


Her Left Foot: Gaby Brimmer and the American Routes of Disability Literature

Rachel Adams, Columbia University
Friday, 3/23 ~ 4 p.m.

Gaby Brimmer: An Autobiography in Three Voices is a work made up of a dialogue interweaving the voices of Brimmer (who had cerebral palsy and could move only her left foot), her mother, and her caregiver, Florencia. It was composed and framed by the Mexican author, Elena Poniatowska, and when the work was translated into English, another layer of mediation intervened. This talk explores the roles of translation, mediation, and surrogacy in disability narratives. Whereas in literary studies we are often troubled by the prospect of reading a work in translation, or a narrative that is mediated through the voice of another (as in the Latin American genre of testimonio), Adams argues that in disability studies translation can be an enabling device that opens up otherwise unavailable channels of communication.

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Rachel Adams is Professor of English and American Studies at Columbia University, where she specializes in 19th- and 20th-century literatures of the United States and the Americas, media studies, theories of race, gender, and sexuality, medical humanities and disability studies. She is also director of “The Future of Disability Studies,” a collaborative research project involving scholars from around the Northeast. She is currently writing a memoir about raising a child with Down syndrome called Aiming High Enough, which will be published by Yale University press. Her most recent book is Continental Divides: Remapping the Cultures of North America (University of Chicago Press, 2009). She is also the author of Sideshow U.S.A.: Freaks and the American Cultural Imagination (University of Chicago Press, 2001). She is co-editor (with David Savran) of The Masculinity Studies Reader (Blackwell Press, 2001) and (with Sarah Casteel) a special issue of Comparative American Literature on “Canada and the Americas.” She is editor of a critical edition of Kate Chopin’s The Awakening (Fine Publications, 2002). Her articles have appeared in journals such as American Literature, American Literary History, American Quarterly, Minnesota Review, Camera Obscura, GLQ, Signs, Yale Journal of Criticism and Twentieth-Century Literature. She has also written for the Chronicle of Higher Education, Gastronomica, and the Times of London. In 2011, she won the Lenfest Distinguished Faculty Award.

This event is sponsored by the CUNY Graduate Center Ph.D. Program in English.

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