About three weeks ago I was in San Francisco and read at Modern Times Bookstore. It was the first reading from the new edition of Exile and Pride and turned into a celebration of the 10th anniversary of book, not an official launch party but with that feel. The store was packed, standing-room only, unless of course you were a wheelchair user, in which case you always bring your own chair (those of us who are walkies are at a disadvantage here). I’ve been delighted to have the new edition of Exile in the world but also hyper-aware that it’s a 10-year-old book and in many ways I’ve grown as a writer and an activist since it was first published. But the reading was such a good reminder for me that the book is still so important. Several people came up to me afterwards to excitedly let me know that they had just found the book.
In addition to reading from Exile, I also read several poems from The Marrow’s Telling, including “How to Talk to a New Lover about Cerebral Palsy.” As folks were leaving, I got a big thank you for this poem from a woman who said she had just been having this exact conversation with her new boyfriend who has CP. I can’t think of a better compliment because it means that this poem has been of use in such a practical and possibly profound way.
During Q&A, I was asked two questions that were overwhelming in their bigness and that I am still chewing on, thinking about how I would like to answer them now. The first one was about how to get non-disabled progressive organizations to include disability in their political agendas. I talked about three things: 1) the need to break isolation as disabled people (the material conditions of our lives are often such that many of us aren’t able to spend the time we want in communities of our own choosing, which in turn impacts the access we have to progressive activists to push them about ableism), 2) the need to talk about the ways ableism is twined at a fundamental level with other systems of oppression, and 3) the utter need for the disability rights movement to stop being a single-issue and single-identity driven movement. There are so many more things to add to this list — strategies, ideas, philosophies, tactics.
The second question was about political and social changes regarding social justice and disability that have happened in the last 10 years since Exile was first published. I really fumbled this question. I talked about queer disabled people and disabled people of color, both queer and not, finding each other, making community, and building culture. I wanted to talk about movement building work, but all I could think of were the many barriers and walls that a lot of us have encountered in the last 10 years trying to get disability onto a broader political agenda. I’d be delighted to hear other people’s ideas about what has changed in the last decade.