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Deaf and Hard of Hearing Writers

April 6, 2009
By Lyndsey Lawson
Deaf and Hard of Hearing Writers

Had I not chosen to major in Mathematics, I would have chosen to major in English. I decided not to because teaching High School English is a little too subjective for me; but I love to read and to express my thoughts, opinions, feelings, revelations--pretty much everything--on paper. Although I am not especially good at it, poetry also provides me with a healthy outlet for my feelings. Which got me to thinking--are there many deaf authors? I knew that there had to be; for, while deafness has a large impact on verbal communication, it is merely a physical handicap and does not affect ones ability to think and, therefore, write. However, I did not have knowledge of deaf people in general (other than Helen Keller or Beethoven--but that is pretty much a given); hence the topic of this blog.

"Deaf literature is composed of works by both deaf and hearing authors. Most of the authors are hearing but in recent years, there has been a focus on deaf authors of short stories, novels, poetry, and plays." (Gates, 2005). Unsurprisingly, the ratio of deaf writers to hearing writes is dismally small. I was fortunate to find a book edited by Jill Jepson, No Walls of Stone. It is a very interesting representation of work written by deaf and hard of hearing authors. I specifically liked a poem titled Lip Service written by Robert F. Panara (Jepson, p. 29, 1992):

You want to rap
you said
and let it all hang out
this thing about
the communication gap
that keeps us separate
your kind
from mine.

You want to rap
you said
you want to integrate
but you decline
to change your line
of crap
from speech
to sign.

Consequently, the author of this poem is also the author of an article that I found to be a very useful source of information: The Deaf Writer in America: From Colonial Times to 1970. In this article, Panara touches on many key players in the production of deaf literature. For example, he talks about Dr. Joseph S. Long and his publication:
"…on the origin and use of the sign language, entitled The Sign Language: A Manual of Signs (1909). The deaf man's equivalent of Webster's Dictionary, this scholarly work has since proved a gold mine of information to the layman and educator interested in the education of the deaf and is one of the most effective means of communication with those deprived of speech and learning." (Panara, 1970)

He also talks about Howard L. Terry who, Panara says, "…proved himself to be the most versatile of all deaf writers, having tried his hand at practically every form of literary expression--newspaper and magazine feature writing, poetry, drama, the short story, the novel, and greeting card verses." (Panara, 1970). I found this to be interesting since Panara, himself, is esteemed as "…one of the best-known deaf writers in the United States and is well known in the American Deaf community." (Jepson, p. 26, 1992). Could Terry have been Panara's mentor? Maybe. I did not look that up, but the way that Panara refers to Terry does have a sense of admiration to it.

I found other works interesting and, had I not known the origins of the author, would not have known that the writers were deaf--for the majority of the pieces. This knowledge did not dampen my view of the work, rather it gave me insight into what the writers were expressing.


Gates, Diana. (2005, July). Deaf Authors. Gallaudet University Library. Gallaudet University. Retrieved 03, Apr. 2009:

Panara, Robert F. (1970). The Deaf Writer in America: From Colonial Times to 1970. R.I.T. Digital Media Library. DSpace. Retrieved 03, Apr. 2009:

Jepson, J. (1992). No Walls of Stone: An Anthology of Literature by Deaf and Hard of Hearing Writers. Washington, DC: Gallaudet University.


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