“I feel such rage—and it clarified what is important to me and what I want to write about.”
On WritingDisability Visibility: First-Person Stories from the Twenty-First Century
Mallory Soto: It has been an incredibly busy year for you. Let’s start off the same way I’m tempted to start conversations with friends over Zoom. How are you? How has it been, existing and writing in 2020 and beyond?
MS: Throughout your writing, the Disability Visibility Project, and so much in your work as an activist, your voice takes its own space—but it is never alone. What’s been challenging about creating community in all of these ways? What are some delights that have come of it?
I am grateful for collaborations such as #CripTheVote with my friends Andrew Pulrang and Gregg Beratan, a nonpartisan online movement encouraging the political participation of disabled people, and Access Is Love, a partnership with Sandy Ho and Mia Mingus that believes access is more than a legal obligation or afterthought. I am also thankful for the creative collaborations with the co-audio producers for the Disability Visibility podcast, Cheryl Green, Geraldine Ah-Sue, and Sarika D. Mehta. I have such joy and pride in the relationships I built with disabled people who I learn constantly from.
MS: I know this election isn’t nearly the end of the work for disability right activists. What’s next for you?
AW: There’s so much ahead in 2021 both personally and as a community! I know many disabled activists are focused on the new Administration’s legislative priorities, policy decisions, Federal appointments, and staffing. It’s also exciting to see more disabled people running for office or getting involved in their local communities such as school boards, committees, and other forms of public service.
Delacorte Books will come out with a version of my 2020 anthology Disability Visibility for young readers this fall that includes a new introduction. I cannot wait to share this with middle grade- and high school-age youth and to be in conversation with them. Later this April I am going to publish the 100th episode of my podcast which is just WILD. I started the podcast in 2017 and love telling stories in this medium. I have oodles of excellent ideas but good shit takes time and I am definitely more of a tortoise than a hare. I have a few things in the works that I can’t reveal yet but folks can check my website or follow me on Twitter for the latest. See what I did there [wink emoji]?
MS: Tell me all about rest. How do you find and prioritize rest from all of the work you’ve been doing?
AW: Pandemic time messed up my sense of reality and I have a night owl chronotype. As someone who worked from home for decades where the lines between ‘rest’ and ‘work’ were already blurred, I have not taken off more than a few days in a row this year. I rest by doing the following as often as possible: sleeping in with luxurious glee; setting up an auto-reply to my email stating boundaries and tempering expectations; canceling meetings entirely or rescheduling at a later date, and delving into escapist tv shows and movies.
MS: What do you see as the future for oral histories? Do you see technology bringing oral histories back into the collective imagination, or do you think we are still giving other stories and histories more gravity? (Ed. note: This question is brought to us by the inimitable Stella Cabot-Wilson!)
AW: I’d like to see more creativity and accessibility in oral histories. How do we bring them to the people in multiple formats to encourage participation? How can we use them for change? How can we integrate oral histories into scholarly, literary, and community-based projects? This pandemic changed the typical methods of recording, obtaining consent, and interviewing people. The usage of Zoom or other remote recording apps should become a standard option going forward in order to include more people. I had the pleasure to be a judge for the 2021 PEN/Jean Stein Oral History Grants with Alex Kotlowitz and Chris Abani. It was exciting to review so many different approaches to oral histories and that was wonderful to see.
MS: You mention in this essay some of the things that keep you going—How do you take your coffee? What is your pastry of choice?
AW: This question gives me life because coffee and pastry gives me LIFE. Coffee: pour-over drip with whole milk and if I’m feeling extra fancy, whipped cream AND whole milk. Pastries and other goodies: I am an unapologetic picky cat and not into eating the same pastry three days in a row so I try to mix things up without being entirely unreasonable. I enjoy in no particular order: cheesecake, pumpkin or peach pie, tiramisu, cookies (toffee chip or chocolate chip), lemon madeleines, churros (fresh and hot with chocolate dipping sauce), doughnuts, and a toasted plain scone slathered with butter and fruit preserves. I have serious thoughts and opinions about coffee and pastry that should become my next book.
Alice Wong(she/her) is a disabled activist, media maker, and consultant. She is the Founder and Director of the Disability Visibility Project, an online community dedicated to creating, sharing and amplifying disability media and culture created in 2014. Currently, Alice is the editor of Disability Visibility: First-Person Stories from the Twenty-First Century, an anthology of essays by disabled people, available now by Vintage Books (2020). You can find her on Twitter: @SFdirewolf.