ABC Portraits of Deaf Ancestors (Karen Christie, writer and Nancy Rourke, illustrator)

“Re-Discovering Forgotten Deaf Ancestors”

Reviewed by Amy Cohen Efron

There are several books featuring deaf characters geared for all ages; however, there are only a handful of biographical or autobiographical books about Deaf, DeafBlind, and Hard of Hearing individuals.  There is a great need for more stories about how Deaf people lived before our time. 

ABC Portraits of Deaf Ancestors is a colorful picture book that tells the stories of Deaf people born before 1925; it was written with middle school students in mind.  This book fulfilled the need to share stories of historic Deaf individuals, also known as “Deaf Ancestors.”  The book includes 27 brief biographies of Deaf men and women from various walks of life who worked in a vast variety of fields, had different ethnicities and cultures, and made significant contributions to the Deaf Community prior to 1925.    

The author, Karen Christie, and internationally known artist and activist, Nancy Rourke, are both Deaf.  Christie and Rourke were able to incorporate their research from a number of Deaf school archives, historical Deaf news publications, and old photographs to bring the breath of life of each of the featured, forgotten ancestors in our Deaf community.  The book is organized in an alphabetical order based on each individual’s last names.  Rourke’s beautiful painted portraits are done in her unique style, particularly noteworthy for its use of bold primary colors. 

What is even more empowering is the fact that this book, written by a Deaf writer and illustrated by a Deaf artist, focusing on Deaf ancestors’ lives, was published by a Deaf organization: Surdists United.  The book’s creation was funded by several people who affirmed the value of getting this book into the hands of Deaf children, their families, their communities, and their schools.  

Christie and Rourke did it beautifully and I would like to see the next edition focusing on Deaf people from all over the world. 

Title: ABC Portraits of Deaf Ancestors
Author: Karen Christie, writer and Nancy Rourke, illustrator
Publisher: Surdists United
Date: 2020

Please visit this issue’s Essays section to read “Dorothy Miles:  Experimenting with Poetic Expressions in English and Sign Language Forms” by Karen Christie and the Art section for a portrait of Dorothy Miles by Nancy Rourke.

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About the Reviewer

Amy Cohen Efron was born Deaf. During her childhood, she dabbled in different art mediums to express her innermost thoughts and feelings; doing so was the only way that she could effectively communicate, at that time. Cohen Efron took several art classes while at school. At Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., she double majored in Studio Art and Psychology. She started her professional career as a school psychologist in 1992. Cohen Efron worked for a non-profit organization, several state schools for the Deaf, and a residential treatment center for Deaf children for 26 years. Recently, she experienced a “mid-life crisis,” and started dabbling in art to cope. In February 2016, Cohen Efron successfully participated in Facebook’s De’VIA Central’s February Art Challenge. The motif on the third day of the challenge was SHADOW, representing something as hidden or as a message. Her photograph, Language First, created for the challenge, went viral on Facebook. Language First includes a visual metaphor for bilingualism, as highlighted in the accompanying image description. In 2020, Cohen Efron again participated in the art challenge. The SHADOW motif was re-introduced; in response, Cohen Efron created Overshadowed (please refer to accompanying image description). Again, the well-received art piece went viral on Facebook. Between 2006 and 2015, Cohen Efron was a vlogger/blogger for “Deaf World as Eye See it.” She now hosts the AEfron Arts and Culture website.