Crip Lit: Toward An Intersectional Crip Syllabus

This is just the beginning of a project that, hopefully, is never rendered complete. A project meant to challenge intellectual borders and disrupt the gatekeeping of literary canons. A project committed to political education, accessibility, and locating knowledge at the crossroads — backwards, sideways and upside down.

From Audre Lorde’s “army of one-breasted women” to Riva Lehrer’s golems and monsters to Eli Clare’s loggers and spotted owls, the authors in this syllabus imagine queercrip figures that push up against limited notions of embodiment, resist medical pathology and demand more expansive understandings of disability, gender and sexuality.

When designing an intersectional crip syllabus, the question of how is just as important as who and what. This syllabus, then, is a process rather than a product. An emboldened effort to compile works that have no investment in coherence or inscribing order onto the chaos and vulnerabilities that attend the practice of reading and being read; learning and unlearning; sense-making and disorganizing our senses elsewhere.

What follows is a radical and participatory approach to centralizing crip lives (traditionally excluded from intellectual and media participation) by gathering texts that explore multiple and overlapping experiences of disability oppression, gender and sexual politics, racial injustice, economic, legal and medical violence.

I asked several contemporary crip authors to recommend a piece of scholarship that moved them, challenged them, changed them. From there, a list of titles have been assembled that consist of writers, theorists, artists, and performers whose work conceives of bodies beyond the limits of “minority” and assimilationist models, offering broader visions for social justice, accommodation and interdependence.*

An Intersectional Crip Syllabus


 Memoircrip-syllabus-memoir

+ Johanna Hedva, author of “Sick Woman Theory“:

“In terms of crip memoir, I recommend The Diary of Frida Kahlo: An Intimate Self-Portrait by Carlos Fuentes. Despite being now known as a kind of capitalist brand name and even mascot, Frida Kahlo was in fact a queer, Communist, disabled, Mexican woman whose fierce-ness, complexity, depth, wit, sensitivity, and intensity was resistant to the hegemonic norms of her time. She was a revolutionary, no question. I have a tattoo of the last words she wrote in it, a couple weeks before she died: Espero alegre la la [sic] saliba y espero no volver j’amás.”

Exile and Pride: Disability, Queerness, and Liberation by Eli Clare

The Cancer Journals by Audre Lorde

Mean Little deaf Queer: A Memoir by Terry Galloway

Too Late to Die Young: Nearly True Tales from a Life by Harriet McBryde Johnson

The Me in the Mirror by Connie Panzarino

A Body, Undone: Living on After Great Pain by Christina Crosby

Gary in Your Pocket: Stories and Notebooks of Gary Fisher by Gary Fisher and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick


Nonfiction

crip-syllabus-nonfiction+ Neve Be, staff writer for Harlot Magazine:

“I have always loved the writers who are not only writers. Riva Lehrer’s piece ‘Golem Girl Gets Lucky’ in Sex and Disability by Robert McRuer and Anna Mollow had me rushing into contact with my own body in ways I was only just beginning to. I am always looking for people who can speak about themselves with relish as monsters, but also who crave and worship beauty and grace. She articulates so profoundly a disabled, creative, insightful child’s knowledge of ableism and normative sexuality. She is desired and desires, complexly, with difficulty and also with grace. Not because her body changes, but because she enters it. I have tears in my mouth trying to write this. ‘Golem Girl Gets Lucky’ awakened in me the desire to be real and deep about my electrified, glowing and scuttling and flying, weird little creature cripple sexuality.”

+ Criptiques edited by Caitlin Wood

+ Blackness and Disability: Critical Examinations and Cultural Interventions by Christopher M. Bell

+ Illness as Metaphor by Susan Sontag

+ Crip Theory: Cultural Signs of Queerness and Disability by Robert McRuer

+ Keywords for Disability Studies by Benjamin Reiss, David Serlin and Rachel Adams

+ The Disability Studies Reader edited by Lennard J. Davis

+ Beasts of Burden by Sunaura Taylor

+ The Ultimate Guide to Sex and Disability: For All of Us Who Live with Disabilities, Chronic Pain, and Illness by Miriam Kaufman, Fran Odette and Cory Silverberg

+ Feminist, Queer, Crip by Alison Kafer

+ Moving Politics: Emotions and ACT UP’s Fight Against AIDS by Deborah B. Gould

+ Visible: A Femmethology, Volume 1 edited by Jennifer Clarke Burke


Fiction & Drama

crip-syllabus-fiction+ Origami Striptease by Peggy Munson

+ Bloodchild by Octavia E. Butler

+ The Magic Kingdom by Stanley Elkins

+ Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes by Tony Kushner


Poetry

crip-syllabus-poetry+ Jillian Weise, author of The Amputee’s Guide to Sex:

“‘Bitches on the Bright Side‘ by Constance Merritt [in A Protocol for Touch] is the best villanelle of all time. Yes, of all time. The poem makes an address and asks us to reconsider the virtues of “Keeping corners, and lying late in bed.” Instead of carpe diem, amitte diem. Don’t pluck the day; fuck the day. Let it go. “Feign indifference.” Be useless. What a brilliant rebuttal to Dylan Thomas! Rage, rage? No thanks, I’m going to sleep in. I love how Merritt posits an alternative and calls it “the bright side.” I first read this poem as a nineteen-year-old, sort of lost, sort of wondering why I felt an obligation, as a disabled woman, to be extra special in order to justify my existence. So this poem gave me permission to just be.”

+ Bodymap by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha

+ Black Kripple Delivers Poetry & Lyrics by Leroy Franklin Moore

+ Walking with Ghosts: Poems by Qwo-Li Driskill

+ Cripple Poetics by Petra Kuppers

+ Pushing the Limits: Disabled Dykes Produce Culture by Shelley Tremain

+ The Marrow’s Telling: Words in Motion by Eli Clare

+ Beauty Is a Verb: The New Poetry of Disability, edited by Shelia Black and Jennifer Bartlett


Blogs

+ Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, author of Dirty River:

“I like pretty much everything Neve Be, aka Lyric Seal, writes about disability, Blackness, genderqueerfemmeness and sex. In this edition of their advice column, Slumber Party, Lyric takes a question from a newly coming into a disabled identity person and turns it into an amazing meditation on the power and hotness of disabled queer and gendernonconforming bodies. I had the following quote on my altar for a long time: “You are never a deception. I know that as trans people and disabled people, we get used to hearing that we are not what somebody expected. But guess what? We are a beautiful surprise. And next time, they better get themselves ready.”

Leaving Evidence by Mia Mingus

Where’s Lulu by Caitlin Wood

Autistic Hoya by Lydia Brown

The Body Is Not an Apology

“10 Principles of Disability Justice” by Patty Berne on behalf of Sins Invalid

Feminist Sonar by Elsa E. Sjunneson-Henry

Who Am I to Stop It by Cheryl Green

The Lame Dame by Nancy Mairs

Did I Stutter? by Zach Richter, Erin Schick, and Josh St. Pierre

Crip Confessions by Bethany Stevens

Deliciously Disabled by Stella Palikarova and Andrew Gurza


Zines

crip-syllabus-zines+ Nomy Lamm, performer of Bird Song:

“ET Russian’s zine Ring of Fire was hugely influential for me in my early twenties, helping to make prosthetics and being an amputee sexualized parts.”

Scars Tell Stories: A Queer and Trans (Dis)ability Zine by Colin Kennedy Donovan and Qwo-Li Driskill

+ sick!: a zine about chronic illness by Ben Holtzman

+ Lessons in Taxidermy by Bee Lavender

When Language Runs Dry: A Zine for People With Chronic Pain and Their Allies

IntersexCritiques: Notes on Intersex, Disability, and Biomedical Ethics (pdf) by Emi Koyama


Crip knowledge is being produced everywhere — artistically, intimately, non-verbally, inaudibly, in the inanimate, erotic, anarchic, and cinematic. Which is why this project will never claim completion. This is all to say, please do not hesitate to add more names, book titles, song lyrics, websites, photographs, and links to all sorts of crip creations in the comments section of this article. The work continues.

*There are inherent dangers in writing a syllabus. Namely, there are risks that the works included privilege institutional recognition, marketability, capitalist labor, and uneven access to educational resources and intellectual training. Producing cultural works can often require a certain amount of financial stability, access to digital technology, healthcare coverage, and multiple forms of racial, gender, and sexual security. So while syllabi like this one, invested in political education and social justice, attempt to centralize marginalized voices and expand definitions of “authorship” and “literature,” many elisions still remain.


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Tovah Leibowitz is a Brooklyn-based writer and filmmaker whose credits include Comedy Central's Broad City and Spike Lee's Lil Joints. One day she'll leave it all behind to open a bakery filled with tiny plants and drag king dreams.

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27 Comments

  1. I hope you will add Fabled Asp’s DVD (Fabulous/Activist Bay area Lesbians with Disabilities- A Storytelling Project) which documents through short video pieces, digital stories, oral histories, audio interviews, photographs, commentary, a memorial quilt project and a kick-ass narration by Judith Masur, 40 years of disabled lesbian activism in the Bay Area. Included are photos and stories of luminaries Margaret Sloan-Hunter, Judith Smith (Director of AXIS Dance Company), Laura Rifkin and Jill Lessing (Founders of Comprehensive Special Needs Services for Gay Pride Parade in S.F. in the 80’s and Fabled Asp 40 year retrospective in 2007), Valerie Brown (Founder of Black and Disabled), Marion Abdullah (2005 Pheonix award from APIQTC), Morningstar Vancil (founding member of the Bay Area American Indian Two-Spirits and community activist), Meshe Monge-Irizarry (Founder of the Idriss Stelly Foundation), Peni Hall, Patty Overland (Director and Founding member of Wry Crips- the first disabled women’s reader theater in the Bay Area), Barbara Ruth (Fabled Asp’s poet laureate) and many others. More info at fabledasp.com or the San Francisco Public Library.

  2. Two anthologies of merit to add to your wonderful list: Queer Crips: Disabled Gay Men & Their Stories that won a Lambda Liteary Award and QDA: Queer Disability Anthology.

  3. <3 Shared, shared, shared.

    Two fiction books that might interest other criplit geeks like me are: "A Very Long Engagement" by Sébastien Japrisot,and an older book, "Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon," by Marjorie Kellogg. I find both have strong, genuine representations of disabled characters, though aspects are always up for debate.

    I also humbly encourage those interested in sex and disability to check out "Trophy Wife: Sexuality. Disability. Femininity."

  4. thankyou so much for this!I’m a volunteer at Glasgow women’s library who is non-binary queer femme crippunk autistic etc and I’ve been slowly building on the amount of books we have about disability.This will really help us have a better collection.

  5. I have a semi-related ask –

    I’m looking for a short story (erotica?) – a first person narrative of someone with chronic pain fisting their partner. I read it ages and ages ago, and am desperate to track it down again (for my thesis). I think it was part of an anthology–queer erotica of some kind, or maybe a “theory” anthology? It’s hard to separate the two sometimes. Anyways, I found it really impactful (apart from the title/author/source part . . . ), so maybe someone else remembers some detail? Honestly, it may have been 10 years ago or more.

  6. Sheila Black and I have an anthology of short disability fiction coming out this month called The Right Way to be Crippled and Naked. (BTW, the way, I’m also the editor with Sheila and Jen Bartlett of Beauty is a Verb.)

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