03/09/2020

5 Books To Read By Disabled Authors

I can confidently say that the content I read online is diverse when it comes to gender, sexuality, race, disability etc but it was a few months ago when I realised that my bookshelf wasn't quite mirroring the writing I was consuming online. My bookshelf was very white, very heterosexual and cisgender and very non-disabled. Thanks to the Black Lives Matter movement my Instagram feed became a mini library of book recommendations, and I've slowly been working on reading more books that represent my sexuality more, but the one thing that I was missing were books by disabled authors. The biggest part of my identity was no where to be seen. So, I hunted around and asked for recommendations on Twitter and probably bought a few too many books, and today I wanted to share a few of my favourites that I've read so far. For so long the only books centred around disability out there were biographies that relied on inspiration porn for sales, so I invite you all to diversify your bookshelf today and invite disabled stories into your lives that celebrate disability, highlight discrimination and showcase us as multifaceted beings. 



Unbroken: 13 Stories Starring Disabled Teens edited by Marieke Nijkamp

This book has been on my wishlist ever since it first came out, up until I discovered it the only books I'd read by disabled authors had been non-fiction, I had never read a story featuring a disabled person, and certainly not a story where the character isn't just a plot device. This anthology features 13 talented disabled writers who are reclaiming the narrative around disability, every short story is unique from the next and not only explores disability but also race, gender and sexuality. This book is everything I have ever wanted to read as a disabled, and queer, person. The standouts for me were The Long Road by Heidi Heilig which beautifully covers the journey towards acceptance, Per Aspera Ad Astra by Katherine Locke that centres a disabled teen as the hero of the story, constantly being encouraged along the way. Dear Nora James, You Know Nothing About Love by Dhonielle Clayton also captured my heart and really exhibited the kind of interaction I always hope to have as a disabled person, someone offering me the support I need without a massive fanfare or having to request it. Every story gripped me though and I truly think this is such an important book for anyone of any age to be reading, it re-frames everything we are wrongly taught about disability and shows the world that we are not a monolith. 

Crippled by Frances Ryan

I believe Crippled was actually the first book I ever read by a disabled person, and it completely consumed me. Frances Ryan is a Guardian columnist and all round badass disabled woman who I've actually had the pleasure of working with in the past. Her work documenting the continued discrimination against disabled people in the UK has opened so many people's eyes and in particular it has shed light on how the government and media have made our lives a living hell in recent years. This book is a hard read, and potentially a triggering read for some disabled people, but I think it is a necessary read for non-disabled people in particular. There is so much that goes on behind the scenes in this country, the media let it stay silent and the government are continuous in their attacks against us, and this book details all of that in uncomfortable detail. And it is meant to be uncomfortable, you are meant to be disturbed by the facts and stories laid out on these pages, because it is disturbing. This book is nothing less than essential reading.



The Pretty One by Keah Brown

Keah Brown first came on to my radar when she created the #DisabledAndCute hashtag in 2017, a hashtag that I now frequently use across my Instagram. She not only created a hashtag but she created a movement of people reclaiming their stories, she gave people the power to say 'no, I'm not cute despite being disabled, I'm disabled and cute'. This book has been long awaited ever since then and it really did not disappoint. It's broken up into easy to digest essays that cover everything from Keah's love of music to how she learnt to tie a ponytail. The writing is raw and it feels like a conversation with a friend, she is honest all the time, even if that means admitting struggles with internalised ableism. I appreciated her honesty so much because even though I am the most empowered I've ever been, I still struggle with my disability and we don't have enough conversations in a safe space about that. My copy of the book is littered with post it notes marking pages where I have just wanted to clap and cheer at her wisdom. This book also importantly covers Keah's identity as a black disabled woman and how each intersects with the other, making this a doubly important read given that racism is a massive issue within the disability community. I am the first to admit that I do not follow as many black disabled people as I would like to and we all have a responsibility to change that and make our spaces as inclusive as possible, and if you're looking for a place to start, let it be this book. 

Disability Visibility edited by Alice Wong

This was another book that I had been impatiently awaiting, with it being top of my wishlist ahead of it's release in June of this year. Alice Wong is an incredibly important voice within the disability community and I've had the pleasure of being on their podcast previously, which is a part of the Disability Visibility Project that Alice created to diversify and lift up disabled voices. There is one line in her introduction to the book that really sums up one of her aims perfectly for me, "I wanted to see more stories about everyday people rather than the usual 'very important people' duly mentioned at each ADA anniversary". Alice wanted to honour the past whilst sharing more stories about the present and this is something that really resonates with me. In both the US and the UK we are guilty of sharing the same disabled voices again and again, both within our community itself and in mainstream media, and what Alice has created really stands to combat that, with this book being an extension of her original work. It really is hard for me to pick any standout pieces from this anthology because every piece highlights something new and spoke to me in such unique ways but it was Harriet McBryde Johnson's chilling opening account about her interaction with Peter Singer, a man who believed that parents should be able to euthanise their disabled children, that set the tone for the book. Not many things shock me these days but this was a stark reminder that there are people who walk among us who truly believe the world would be better off without disabled people. This book strikes the balance between highlighting discrimination and celebrating disability culture perfectly, giving readers a small snapshot of our ignored community. 



Stim: An Autistic Anthology edited by Lizzie Huxley-Jones

This final book is also newly published and was a welcome edition to my bookshelf as the first book I've read that centres autism. It's 2020 and yet the best representation autistic people are getting are Sheldon Cooper types that only further sustain the stigma and idea that autism is something that only affects white men. This stunning anthology put together by Lizzie Huxley-Jones, an autistic writer and editor, serves to present a wider range of autistic experiences. The content comes in many forms as well, everything from essays to fiction and even art, showcasing each person's talents and stories. The freedom given to deliver each person's content can be seen across every page and this in itself I think really breaks down this neurotypical world we live in, showing people that books don't have to just be pages and pages of thick text. The Lost Mothers by Rachael Lucas sticks in my mind when I think about this collection, she shared such an important story of how she and her children all followed their journey towards their autism diagnoses together and how they empowered each other to make choices that were most comfortable for them, rather than the choices that were most comfortable for society. I think within the disability community there is still nowhere near enough representation when it comes to autistic voices, we all have gaps in our knowledge and I know for me this book has helped me to question what I can do better when it comes to passing the microphone to neurodiverse voices. 

I ask you to take the opportunity after reading this post to recognise the gaps in your bookshelf, to explore who is missing and work to fill those gaps and extend your knowledge. Disabled voices must be heard, we all have a responsibility to push forward progress and if you don't know where to start, let these books be your first step. 

2 comments:

  1. Thanks for this round up, I'll add the books to my TBR list. I sometimes feel that being disabled later in life has in one way opened my eyes, but in another it's made me understand how long I thought I understood and sympathised with disability when in fact it's nothing like having to live it.

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