Disabled Voices Anthology (edited by sb. smith)

Reviewed by Diane R. Wiener

Being the lead editor of a disability poetry, literature, and arts journal is one of the great joys and honors of my life. I have the privilege of reading, experiencing, and otherwise engaging with some amazing work that is often—infuriatingly and frustratingly—under-appreciated in ableist, normative arenas (if this work is even “known,” at all). 

For nearly 14 years, Wordgathering has actively refused what I’ll call a Special Ed. narrative, a perspective or set of perspectives toward our compelling, powerful work that annoyingly accompanies some folx’s interpretations of CripLit and the CripArts. No, it’s never a good idea to have a separate red door next to an inaccessible entrance with a sign that says, “ring here, if you want to be let in.” Yes, we Crip folx have things to offer and assert that are about our own experiences, identities, and uniquenesses in how we feel, think, move, and exist in the world. Sometimes, I am struck in some seemingly core way, and thereby made into a new apple aspect of myself, as an editor, reader, and viewer (and, not just visually, to be sure). This description is especially apt in discussing sb. smith’s edited collection, Disabled Voices Anthology.

The book’s dedication brings the point home: “For all the beautiful weirdos of our community. We’re all welcome here.” 

In my interview with editor, sb. smith (in this issue of Wordgathering), they make it clear that ableds are not the book’s focus; crips are. Put differently, the book’s primary goal is not to educate or enlighten the nondisabled. Disability Voices Anthology is all about empowering and aligning with disabled people—in Crip Solidarity, and without condescension. As smith underscores, “Our inherent value lies in our existence, not our productivity, and our work is not compiled here to prove our worth to abled people. This is for us.” (12)

The bold, accessible, and multi-disciplinary collection is neither abstruse nor highbrow—quite the opposite. Moreover, the book is not intended as a set-up for (un)desirable academic debates, nor does it seek a recipe role in ivory tower stamps of approval (although the book could—and, yes, should—be “adopted” and otherwise “employed” in courses, curricula, events, etc., in higher education contexts). 

It is a good idea, in my view, to contribute to the many varieties of CripLit and the CripArts. However, it is dangerous to “add” to a plethora of work that serves largely to broaden a sea of disability whiteness and likewise uphold other damaging and exclusionary norms. This collection makes plain that its goals are the opposite of these intentions. It delivers on its promises. 

While this collection has overlaps with and distinctions from mono-genre CripLit and CripArts collections, its accessibility and boldness are particularly robust. The “Access Considerations” section that is included at the beginning (as happens with some other, “new” Crip texts) explains font choices, multiple formats, and other features. This collection goes further, by noting to its readers that if one’s access needs are not met, anyone is welcome to contact the publisher.

The Table of Contents is organized into the genres non-fiction, fiction, poetry, and artwork. The work’s multi-genre approach and the initial wish to have created such a text are described fluidly by smith in the book’s introductory “Editor’s Note.” smith’s aspirations are addressed after they share an ableist story about having experienced a form of linguistic erasure by a professor, who corrected the word “ableism” and turned it into “able-ism” in each instance of their submitted paper, “as if it was a word I had invented” (11, emphasis in original). 

It is clear from the outset that ableism, while pervasive, is not to be tolerated (on the contrary). If one reads the book “cover-to-cover” (in whichever of its formats is engaged), it is evident that traveling from art to poetry to fiction to non-fiction will be among the pathways possible. The book is not divided by genres, however; rather, it shifts deliberately across genres. If one wants to encounter genre-specific selections, the Table of Contents serves as a guide. The fact that the book can be encountered and experienced in multiple ways is itself an illustration of purposeful cripping. (I’ll return to and say more about this comment, below.)

Again, solidarity between insiders—in celebratory, transparent company with each other—is among the main themes and goals in and of the book, across the selections, and from each genre. This commitment is articulated assertively in the Editor’s Note. American, Canadian, and British contributors are represented across myriad topics—and across the outlined genres. As smith notes, “With a total of twenty-eight writers and artists from America, Canada, and England, they’re bound to be a fairly diverse bunch. With work on wide-ranging topics such as invisible disabilities, mobility aid use, abuse, ableism from strangers, identity, substance use disorders, late-diagnosed neurodivergence, inclusion, online activism, access and accommodation, gender, race, sex and sexuality, internalized ableism, hospitalization and institutionalization, memory loss, pain, and so on, I hope we can all find reflections of ourselves and our experiences within these pages.” (12-13)

The collection is simultaneously welcoming and consistently bold in its anti-racist, anti-ableist, and anti-oppressive approaches, writ large. smith’s beginning contextualization, most of the works included, and the foreword by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha underscore a no-holds-barred orientation that is wisely, unabashedly “unapologetic.” 

As Piepzna-Samarasinha asserts, “What I’ve always wanted for Disability Justice literature is…a Disabled future where there is a vibrant Disability Justice section in every bookstore and library, where the shelves are groaning full of disabled writers and where there is access to PDFs and audiobooks and zines. Disabled Voices Anthology is a crucial part of our new and old traditions: not apologizing for ourselves or writing for the abled, not translating or making ourselves small, but an unapologetic, vibrant part of that krip literary future that is now. Dive in.” (15).

Centering, throughout, the experience and expertise offered and afforded by CripLit, CripArts, Disability Justice (intersectional, by definition—in approach, intention, and impact), and anti-ableism, the book begins with “Cripple Punk Portrait #23” by Michaela Oteri and transitions to Eryn Goodman’s “Three Legged Beast.” Art and poetry thereby raise a curtain and open the Crip stage—again, only if one reads the text in this “order,” since an alinear sequencing is/would be just as welcome and feasible as a strategy or plan. 

Although arguably any text can be read “out of order,” this book is designed to be experienced in whatever order, non-order, or dis/order is desired and sought by the person with the collection. What is understood to be or defined in mainstream contexts as “order” is or often can be ableist, white supremacist, sexist, and violently restrictive in other respects, after all. Chaos is not being equated with cripping, however; instead, Crip Time, Crip Consciousness, and Crip Sensibilities are the driving forces behind—and in the service of—human variances and multiplicities that never elide power or deny agency. 

Disabled Voices Anthology makes clear that CripLit and CripArts are sophisticated, brazen, gorgeously uneven, and sometimes messy. So there. 

Go ahead: “Dive in.”

Editor’s Note: You can read more about sb. and their work in their interview (with Diane R. Wiener—that’s me!) in this issue of Wordgathering

Title: Disabled Voices Anthology
Editor: sb. smith
Publisher: Rebel Mountain Press
Date: 2020

Back to Top of Page | Back to Book Reviews | Back to Volume 14, Issue 4 – December 2020

About the Reviewer

Diane R. Wiener became Editor-in-Chief of Wordgathering in January 2020. A poet since the age of seven, her first full-length poetry collection, The Golem Verses, was published in 2018 by Nine Mile Press. Her poetry chapbook, Flashes & Specks, is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press. Diane’s poems also appear in Nine Mile MagazineWordgatheringTammyQueerlyThe South Carolina Review, and elsewhere; her poetry is forthcoming in the anthology, Welcome to the Resistance: Poetry as Protest (Stockton University Press). Diane’s creative nonfiction appears in Stone CanoeMollyhouse, and The Abstract Elephant Magazine; her flash fiction appears and is forthcoming in Ordinary Madness. After serving as Guest Editor for Nine Mile Literary Magazine’s Fall 2019 Special Double Issue on Neurodivergent, Disability, Deaf, Mad, and Crip poetics, Diane was appointed as the magazine’s Assistant Editor. The Founding Director of the Syracuse University Disability Cultural Center (2011-2018), Diane now serves as a Research Professor and as the Associate Director of Interdisciplinary Programs and Outreach at the Burton Blatt Institute (Syracuse University College of Law); she also teaches in the Renée Crown University Honors program. Diane has published widely on disability, pedagogy, and empowerment, among other subjects. She is a proud Neuroqueer, Mad, Crip, Gender Nonconforming, Jewish Pantheist Nerd (etc.). Diane blogged for the Huffington Post between May 2016 and January 2018. You can visit Diane online at: https://dianerwiener.com.