This new anthology showcases the work of Deaf writers during a critical formative period in their history. From 1830 to 1930, these writers conveyed their impressions in autobiographies, travel narratives, romances, non-fiction short stories, editorials, descriptive pieces, and other forms of prose. The quick, often evocative snapshots and observations featured here, many explicitly addressing deafness and sign language, reflect their urgency to record Deaf American life at this pivotal time. Using sensory details, dialogue, characterization, narrative movement, and creative prose, these writers emphasized the capabilities of Deaf people to counter events that threatened their way of life.
The volume opens with “The Orphan Mute,” a sentimental description of the misfortune of deaf people written by John Robertson Burnet in 1835. Less than 50 years later, James Denison, the only Deaf delegate at the 1880 Convention of Instructors of the Deaf in Milan, published his “impressions” that questioned the majority’s passage of a strict oralism agenda. In 1908, Thomas Flowers wrote “I was a little human plant,” a paean to education without irony despite the concurrent policy banning African Americans from attending Gallaudet College. These and a host of other Deaf writers—Laurent Clerc, Kate Farlow, Edmund Booth, Laura Redden Searing, Freda W. Bauman, Vera Gammon, Isaac H. Benedict, James Nack, John Carlin, Joseph Mount and many more—reveal the vitality and resilience of Deaf writers in an era of wrenching change.