No one familiar with the field of Disability Studies will have any difficulty recognizing the names Cynthia Lewiecki-Wilson and Brenda Brueggemann. Brueggemann, together with Sharon Snyder and Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, edited Disability Studies: Enabling the Humanities one of the first attempts to provide theoretical and practical bases for bringing disability studies into the classroom. Since then she has been included in almost every humanities related anthology in the field, with special emphasis on aspects of education affecting deaf students and teachers. While Lewiecki-Wilson’s background is somewhat more modest, she too has made many contributions to the area of disability language arts, most notably in rhetoric. In addition to being researchers, both scholars are active classroom teachers, Lewiecki-Wilson at Miami University of Ohio and Brueggemann at Ohio State. Together, they have edited what may become the definitive book for introducing teachers of writing to the implications of the discipline of Disability Studies for their classroom work: Disability and the Teaching of Writing: A Critical Sourcebook.
Putting forth their belief that “research and pedagogy go hand in hand, helping us to reimagine teaching and learning through the lens of disability,” Lewiecki-Wilson and Brueggeman have assembled representative writings from virtually every scholar in the field of Disability Studies who has commented on the teaching writing. As befits teachers of writing , they have also laid out the book in three distinct sections. The first group of articles addresses issues of disability awareness in teacher training. The second, and probably most accessible for the average reader, is also the most unique. In it, teachers with disabilities discuss their experiences in the classroom - an area of discourse that Brueggemann, in particular, as championed. Georgina Keege’s “Reflections on Writing and Teaching Disability Autobiography” and poet Stephen Kuusisto’s “Teaching By Ear, ” for example, both reflect the insights of blind instructors.
The third and largest section deals with the teaching of disabilities concepts. By far, the most challenging section for those new to the field, this portion of the book features excerpt from longer works by such luminaries as David Mitchell, G. Thomas Couser, Lennard Davis, Simi Linton, Rosemarie-Garland Thomson, Nancy Mairs, Michael Berubé and Audre Lorde. It is no exaggeration that to say that a reader who takes in these articles would be able to hold their own in almost any discussion of disability and writing. This third section is subdivided into four parts: (1) how a disability perspective alters writing; (2) analyzing linguistic representations of disability; (3) key concepts in disability; (4) samples from a range of topics in various genres of writing. For poets and others with an interest in the power metaphor and symbolic language, Mitchell's "Narrative Prosthesis and Materiality of Metaphor" and Couser's "Conflicting Paradigms: The Rhetorics of Disability Memoir" in the second part will be of particular interest. Readers of Wordgathering will also be glad to know that Jim Ferris represented here as well.
Designed as it is for educators, each selection concludes with a small commentary on praxis. In the first section it is called “Reflecting on Your Teaching.” The second section, geared more for practicing teachers, section also adds “Suggestions for Student Activities.” Both are also incorporated into the third section. In keeping with its sourcebook mission, the book also includes a bibliography of all sources referred to by any of the writers in the book. This is especially helpful for either the teacher or interested reader in locating both the complete works from which many of these sources are sampled and seeking out further sources.
The entire book is prefaced with an introduction entitled “Rethinking Practice and Pedagogy: Disability and the Teaching of Writing,” which, in addition to prefacing the works to follow, provides a succinct explanation of some of the history of Disability Studies and the need for it in the classroom. In the words of the editors, however, "our goal is to nurture the habits of self-reflective practice in writing teachers, not to prescribe methods." True to their word, Lewiecki-Wilson and Brueggeman do not let this sourcebook does not lapse into a lecture on methodology, and, because of that, it has an appeal that will make it of interest to anyone interested in writing, not just to teachers.
Disability and the Teaching of Writing is a gold mine of a book and one of the books of which one can truly say that, in terms of its intended audience, there is something for everyone. If Mitchell’s discussion of narrative prosthesis is too dense for one reader, he will find Mairs’ or Eli Claire’s pieces to their taste. If Kuusisto’s piece seems facile to another reader, she may find that Robert McCruer’s article provides the intellectual grist she seeks. Most readers, however, will find a veritable feast. Any teacher of composition who cannot find something to interest him in this volume should probably reconsider his profession.
Given the broad selection of material from which the editor’s had to choose, it is hard to find fault with the choices. If a fault could be found – at least from the perspective of a journal like Wordgathering - it might have been that Jim Ferris was not represented as well as he might have been. True, “Poems with Disabilities” and “Poet of Cripples” were excellent choices as poems, but inasmuch as Ferris is one of the foremost theorists of disability poetry, it would also have been nice to have seen “ The Enjambed Body” or “Crip Poetry or How I Learned to Love the Limp.
Not withstanding this minor omission, if one could only choose one book about the teaching of writing to buy this year, Lewiecki-Wilson and Brueggemann’s Disability and the Teaching of Writing would be an excellent choice. It is available through Beford/St. Martin publishers.