Educator, producer and writer Andrew Leland tells us about his first book The Country of the Blind: A Memoir at the End of Sight. We discuss how using a cane led him to writing it, how he used specificity while addressing a broad audience and why writing about ableism felt so risky. We also talk about the concept of “blind thought” and the ongoing debate around blindness being a neutral characteristic.
The Stacks Book Club selection for August is You Made a Fool of Death with Your Beauty by Akwaeke Emezi. We will discuss the book on August 30th with Sam Sanders.
*Due to the nature of podcast advertising, these timestamps are not 100% accurate and will vary.
Traci Thomas 0:08
Welcome to The Stacks, a podcast about books and the people who read them. I’m your host Traci Thomas and today we are joined by Andrew Leland. Andrew is a teacher, producer, editor and writer who just released his first book. It’s called The Country of the Blind: A Memoir at the End of Sight. The book is fantastic. It is one of my favorites of this year. It’s part memoir about Andrew’s journey with retinitis pigmentosa (RP), a degenerative eye disease that has made him slowly lose his vision over the years and it is also part investigative journalism into blind culture and community. Today we talk about how Andrew balanced these two parts in his book, his own battle with ableism and writing about it and the lack of riding on blindness. Remember our August book club selection is you made a fool of death with your beauty. We will discuss the book with Sam Sanders on Wednesday, August 30. A reminder everything we talked about on each episode of the stacks can be found in the link in the show notes. Want more of the stacks, join the stacks pack, it is just $5 a month and you earn perks to support this show. You get access to our virtual book club you can join the stacks pack discord, we have bonus episodes for you, but the truth is there is no the stacks without the stacks pack. So if you liked the show, if you want to continue to hear it every single week, Your support makes the show possible head to patreon.com/the stacks and join. Shout out to our newest members of this x pack. Christie Hidalgo Jasmine Gordo, vez, Laura Saxton, Natalie Marie mark, and our friends at reparations club bookstore. Thank you all so much for joining this x pack. Thank you to the entire stacks pack for being you. I cannot say this enough. There is no stacks without the stacks pack. So if you want to support the show, go to patreon.com/the stacks and join us. All right, now it’s time for my conversation with Andrew Leland.
Alright, everybody, I am so excited. Today I am joined by Andrew Leland, he’s the author of the country of the blind a memoir at the end of sight. And I have to tell you all, I picked up this book sort of randomly I don’t, I don’t really know a friend of mine. You all know her Greta from Nerdette podcast text me the day I picked it up and was like you should read this. And I was like Greta, I’m reading this. And from there, I was just so pleased. I love the book. So much so and I reached out to your team immediately and was like Andrew has to come on. It’s really good. We have to talk about it. So with all that being said, Well, you tell us in about 30 seconds or so the general overview of the book.
Andrew Leland 2:41
Yeah, thank you so much for having me on. And for what you just said about the book, I really appreciate it. What is the book, so it’s, it’s a memoir. But unlike some memoirs, I don’t spend the whole book on my own experience. Or another way to put it is, you know, I use the experience of gradually losing vision as motivation to go explore the world and do journalism and criticism and meet other people. So, you know, the part of the book that’s about my loss of sight is relatively small compared to that loss, being an engine for all of these trips I take to meet other blind people and try to really figure out what blindness is. So it’s a memoir that has a lot of energy directed towards discovery of things that I didn’t know when I started writing the book, which I think is different than some memoirs where it’s like this amazing thing happened to me, and I’m going to write about it this felt much more like this. troubling, possibly amazing. But also a difficult thing is happening to me. And I’m going to now go on this journey to figure it out.
Traci Thomas 3:45
Yeah, that kind of memoir. There are many others. I feel like that it’s one of my favorite genres of memoir is like memoir plus, but there’s not really like a name for it. Right? Like, I know, I think I called it personal history once and someone really liked that. But it’s the kind of book where it’s like, the author is at the center, and they are telling you their story. And in doing so, they’ve also gone out to research other people or talk to other experts who are in and around that same experience. Right?
Andrew Leland 4:15
Yeah, totally. I mean, in some ways, I think a bit just as the essay form, because I think going back to the beginning of that form, when when writers, you know, I think don’t make me try to talk in an academic way about the history of the essay. But, you know, at least since the Renaissance, I guess if not earlier, you know, writers have been blending these forms where there’s definitely some sort of history history, you know, capital age, history and research and, but then it’s also very personal. And it’s this sort of wandering exploration that I think is some of the most exciting writing I’ve read is in the essay form. So I’m definitely working in that tradition, I think.
Traci Thomas 4:54
Yeah, and I do love essays. I just I like the mix because it’s like you have something to anchor to you have a person that you’re Like I’m with this person, but also, I’m getting like a bigger scope. And I think that’s ultimately what I really loved about your book is that it feels so intimate, and also, like, so broad and so wide reaching. But let me ask you where you got sort of the idea to write the book.
Andrew Leland 5:20
So I was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa RP, which is this degenerative retinal disease when I was a teenager, and back then blindness felt very, very distant, almost abstract, like, it’s not that I didn’t believe the doctors, but it just was like, What am I going to do with this information, because they were kind of like, when you’re middle aged, it’ll start to really accelerate, but until then, it’s going to be this very slow decline. So for most of my life, it’s been this sort of thing in the back of my head that has affected me, but never really been front and center. And that changed about 10 years ago, when it kind of caught up with me. And I realized I had to start using a cane, you know, I had stopped driving by then. But I still was living my life very much as a sighted person. And really using the cane was what was what really changed things because all of a sudden, the cane marks you, like outs you as blind, and people from my family and friends to total strangers on the street just started treating me differently. And that is when I got kind of, you know, a lot of a lot of feelings came up, you know, among them being upset, being sad, but also kind of curious, like, Whoa, what is this weird new life that I’m living? And so that’s, I think, when I realized that there was something to explore, and to investigate in a book,
Traci Thomas 6:40
I feel like you really talk about the cane in the book a lot, and like, the first time you use it, but then also the first time you use it around your wife, which I thought was like a really interesting moment in the book. And I was thinking a lot about, you know, as a person, I’m a sighted person, I have no sight, you know, anything, I’m not disabled at all. And I was thinking about audience and how you’re sort of writing, in my mind, sort of, to like three and a half audiences, right? It’s like you have you have a blind audience, people who have had the same or similar experiences around their vision, then you have sort of like it, the half is like half gent, like in the disabled community, you have half people who have been disabled maybe their whole life, and so you’re speaking similarly, the DME but then there’s also this other disabled community that’s maybe more recently disabled, who made or like, on or declining or like moving towards disability, like you are like headed, I guess, not declining, but like moving towards something. Yeah. And then you also have the non disabled community. And so I’m wondering how you were thinking about threading that needle, because that sounds really broad. It sounds like basically everyone, but also, it feels like a really specific book. And I felt like you were talking to me, and I know, Greta, who’s talked about losing her vision, she has another, you know, situation where she’s losing her vision, she felt like you were talking to her. And so I’m just wondering, like, how are you talking to all of us?
Andrew Leland 8:07
Yeah, that’s really interesting. You know, I used to work as a magazine editor for the believer, which is like a arts and culture monthly, that really is like, publishes essays in the way that we’re talking about, you know, there’ll be kind of like an essay about a book, but it’ll also really be an essay about the writers, Mother, you know, this sort of like this, this kind of approach to the essay form that we’ve been talking about. And I remember, you know, working with, with my mentors at that magazine, there was this really strong imperative to write for everyone, and not be too highbrow not be too lowbrow not be too, you know anything, and really kind of, like, try to find a voice that’s, that’s accessible to everyone without making compromises. And like, I wish I could remember who first made this analogy. But one of my editors, it might have been Heidi drew livets talked about being at a dinner party. And like, let’s just say the article is about the essay you’re writing is about climate change, you know, and imagine at the dinner party on the right of you is, like, Distinguished Professor of, you know, geology and climatology and biology, whatever, you know, like they know, they know, seven times as much as you and then on the on the other side of you is like a bright sophomore in high school, and how are you going to have a conversation about climate change that is going to keep both of them engaged? And I, I believe, like, to my bones that it’s that’s not an impossible task. Like that is very possible. And the answer is like, you can talk about these things in the way that the expert is gonna, like, think to themselves like yeah, that is That’s right. Like I liked the way that they’re talking about that now that they’re like, this is so boring. I know all this already. Because I think you would if you’re an expert, like you love talking about this stuff, and then but you’re not talking about it so narrowly or so, you know, jargon filled expert II that the high school student is going to be lost and, and I think that was just like, hammered into me for so long working as an editor that when I started reading this book, that was kind of like, just already in my head like, and the other thing is like, I’m in such a way position now where I’m kind of both expert and novice too, because it’s not like I was born blind. It’s not like any of this stuff I can take for granted or really knew about. So in a way I was in your position to at the beginning of the book, like, I don’t know, what a screen reader is really, or like, what are the politics of the cane? Or, you know, all the questions that I bring up, were genuinely new to me. And so I think, I think probably that’s the answer to your question is that like, I’m, I’m figuring it out along the way. And so we can sort of learn about it together. And then the, the more challenging part was like, how to not alienate those experts. But I think blindness just gets written about so little, you know, that there was it was, it was actually not that hard to, you know, and I just, I tried to write it in a way that like that, you know, fictional biologist that we were just talking about, like, in a way that they would recognize it and appreciate the way that I was talking about it, right.
Traci Thomas 10:49
Just bringing up questions or like reframing things to think about it differently. Were you were you thinking about this consciously? Or do you think that sort of just in you, as a writer at this point, from your work?
Andrew Leland 11:02
Not only was I thinking about it consciously, but my, my editor Emily Cunningham, that Penguin Press was like, not yelling at me, but in my head, she was yelling at me. She’s very polite person never raised her voice. But that was a big thing that we talked about a lot, which was, you know, I think I would get lost in the blindness, disability, justice, weeds, and she would kind of be like, this is all important stuff, Andrew, but like, you’re losing the random reader who like doesn’t care about any of this stuff. Like, we got to keep them engaged, too. And I resented that at times, because I was like, so deep in it myself. And I was like, What are you talking about? This is all important, the, you know, like, we’ve got to learn about like, you know, the 1970, legal battles over, you know, accessibility, the origins of digital accessibility. And she’s like, yes, like, do that, but do it in a way that everybody is going to come along for the ride. So it was it was that was, I would say, above anything else, during the editorial and revision process, the trickiest balance to strike between both the sort of personal narrative and the reported stuff, but also just like how to not get so in the weeds, but still write a book that is really specific? Well,
Traci Thomas 12:10
I think a lot about like, you know, I’m a black woman. And I think a lot about black authors that I’ve spoken to have talked about, like writing for us, like writing for black people. And I’m wondering if you were feeling like some obligation for writing for the blind community, or some have some sense of like, if I want to do right by these people first, or any of that sort of feeling?
Andrew Leland 12:31
Yeah, that’s interesting. I mean, I don’t know after I wrote the book, I read a collection of essays called who will pay reparations on our soul. Oh, Jesse McCarthy. And as you know, it’s not like the first time I encountered the phrase Black thought. But like, I remember when I read, I think in his introduction, like, just him, you know, in that book is about Blackfyre, in a way, like, it’s just like, sort of, like, identifying this black intellectual tradition and cultural tradition, and like, really kind of like, making what I found to be a really exciting intervention into like, that history. And when I read that, I was kind of like, what is blind thought? And like, am I identifying? Am I doing a similar project to what he was doing? But but in terms of blindness, and I think there’s been a lot more writing about, about race, then there has been about disability, I think, for that we can have a conversation about why that is. But you know, in some ways, I felt like, it was easier to do right by the blind readers, because there just has been so little attention paid to blind fight that and even to the point where the idea of blind thought, you know, it’s, it sounds almost like a, like an oxymoron, right? Because like, we use the figure of blindness as ignorance. So like, the idea of saying, like, Oh, he’s a really blind thinker, or something, like, he’s a great example of blind thought, it almost sounds like an insult. And so I feel like, in some ways, it was really thrilling to me to try to take a swing at, like, defining that and I feel like, you know, the people I met these these really like blind geniuses, and not just like, geniuses who happen to be blind, but I think really pushing towards this idea that, that I found, like in Jesse McCarthy’s book that like, these thinkers are brilliant, in their blackness, like, because, like it burrowing into that, that tradition and that identity and that experience. And I think I found something analogous in the world of blindness.
Traci Thomas 14:26
I’ve really loved that. Something that I, I mean, I’ve tested this at the top, I think that this book is very intimate. I think that you do a great job of getting very vulnerable. And I think that you share with us some of your personal thoughts around, you know, your journey towards blindness, that I think, could I mean, I think you said is can easily be considered ableist. Right. And I and I think one of the things that I was really curious about was how did you approach publicly grappling with some of your own ableism because I know that I know that that’s like a really challenging thing to admit. And and it’s not even that you admit it, it’s that you’re kind of working through it as we’re going. So I’m wondering like, how did how did you feel about putting a lot of this stuff to paper? Did you think about taking any of it out? What was that like for you?
Andrew Leland 15:18
Yeah. That was hard. I you know what I definitely it definitely, though, that that I think what you’ve identified was the riskiest feeling part of the book, that and maybe writing about my marriage, I guess, would be for a different reason, the risky? Yeah, I just felt so important, you know, for all the risk and all the challenge of kind of getting it on the page in a way that felt authentic. And also not, that wasn’t going to cause harm to anybody, you know, but that it felt worth the risk. Because, in a way, I wanted the reader. I think there’s a risk of being too smart, or too good as a writer, you know, like presenting oneself in this sort of disingenuous way be like, Well, I’ve thought this all the way through. And this is the right opinion to have. And now I’m gonna, like perfectly express that opinion. And it kind of like does a disservice to the reader, because then you read it, and you’re sort of like, oh, like, that’s a, that’s how do I get there, and then you kind of like, take the scaffolding away, and there’s no bridge for the reader to get there. It’s just like, Oh, I’m enlightened. And like, hopefully, after reading my book, you are too, but there’s like a little like, smiling at you from the closed turret up above. And so I felt like really being messy and vulnerable in that way. And saying, like, the first time I met a blind guy with a developmental disability, like I was, I was sort of confused about what he was doing at the blindness convention, because I was like, I thought blindness was this like, cool, like intellectual friendly disease. And this guy had an intellectual disability and it like, really mess with my head. And you know, that that felt that felt borderline offensive to like, put talk in those terms. But also, I felt like, if I was having that experience, I could make the assumption that like, a lot of readers would have also had that feeling. Because I think it’s a common feeling for non disabled people. The first time or even, you know, the 100th time that you were around somebody with a disability there is the feeling of alienation or discomfort sometimes, and, you know, I felt it around blindness itself. And so there’s this, it just felt important to kind of leave the reader on the hook the way, like, not let myself off the hook, but also not let the reader off the hook. And I think, yeah, pushing that part of it felt like it would give the book a little more of a impact on the reader that I wanted it to have, and an impact on myself. I mean, really, like, it’s another example of me, with the reader going through the journey together, I think.
Traci Thomas 17:42
And you talk about your son as well, because your RP is genetic. And, you know, you you were doing genetic testing, and maybe considering finding out about your son. And I think that like, it gets into a really interesting place about you know, what can you Andrew, person who’s living with RPE, etc, handle versus what do you want for your child? And like, What is that look like? And I And we’ve talked about this a lot on this podcast, because it’s come up in other books that we’ve read and talked about. But I’m wondering sort of how you grappled with that, and including that part in the story as well, because that brings your son in into this in a way that maybe is more challenging than, you know, bringing yourself into it.
Andrew Leland 18:27
These are such good and hard questions. Sorry, no, no, it’s really fun. I mean, I think that, you know, more than anything else in the book, the fact that we haven’t talked to Oscar about the fact that this is an inherited disease, you know, that’s if that feels the weirdest to me that like it’s in this book that’s now in the world, but it’s not something that we’ve talked about at home, how old is he? He’s 10. Okay. And, you know, he’s a bright 10 year old who if he wanted to could like go grab a copy from the other room and read it right now and find that part? And he will eventually and you know, it’s not like we’re we’re never going to tell him that there’s that possibility. But you know, the conversation that Lily and I had now was what would it do for him? To know that there’s a possibility or even to know that you know, if she did get tested, and he he had it, like how would that change his life? And it didn’t seem like it would do him any any favors, you know? Like Like what would knowing now do as a 10 year old like that he’s not like he’s like, I want to be an Air Force pilot. And we’re like, Well, no, you can’t think about that because you have RP like it just it just I wanted I want him to have a normal childhood Not that there’s anything wrong with having a blind childhood, but he that’s not what’s happening. His vision is fine at the moment. So I don’t know if that answers your question. But I think another thing that you were you were kind of getting at was the way that it’s it’s relatively easy for me to kind of get excited about blind thought and all these like kind of like mind expanding possibilities, but then when I think about the possibility of him having It having RP it, my attitude shifts and there is a almost like a hypocrisy to that I don’t think I’m a hypocrite, but it’s confusing, and it’s hard. And it kind of gets down to this paradox of, of disability in some ways, I think where it’s completely unacceptable the way that disability is stigmatized, and that people are made to feel like they don’t belong, and are inherently lesser than other people at the same time, like, it’s a fallacy to say that disability is an entirely neutral characteristic, and that doesn’t cause pain. And like, it wouldn’t be extremely convenient to be able to see, right, like, like, blindness is very inconvenient. And so it’s sort of hard to hold both of those things at once. And it’s interesting, like thinking about the analogies between disability and other marginalized identities, you know, because I think with race in some ways, like a, and I write a little bit about this, but like, you know, like, using the example of gender, let’s say, you know, it’s obvious that, like, being a woman is, like, not a disadvantage inherently. Right. It’s like, like, the characteristics of being a woman are just as wonderful as the characteristics of being a man. It’s not like there’s like some inherent problem there. But disability, even though I think there’s a degree to which that’s true, there’s also this very confusing reality, which is that, like, you do have sometimes chronic pain, right? That’s like, the pain of pain, it’s, you can’t spin pain, right? Pain is pain, or there’s, yeah, like, like, things are just going to be more difficult, like, as a blind person in the world, you’re going to need to use some tools. And, and there’s this idea of the social model of disability where, you know, you can make the argument that it’s actually the way the world is built, that’s the problem, not the disability itself. But all that, as I say, all this, just to sort of explain how I can have that kind of duality of thinking where on the one hand, like, I’m cool with my blindness, and I recognize the ways that it is actually enriching my life. And then I can turn around and say, but I hope Oscar doesn’t have RP.
Traci Thomas 22:10
Right. Okay, we’re gonna talk about accommodations. I think, for me, as a non-disabled person, one of the things that really, really, really landed with me was this idea of tools and accommodations for disabled people. Obviously, specifically, we’re talking about blind people or people with vision loss. I think what you get at the book and in the book, and you say, in a lot of different ways, but one of the ways that like really popped out of my head is that this idea that ease of something, or being something being easy, doesn’t say anything about the value of a person, or like it doesn’t say anything about the goodness, or the smartness or whatever, it just means that something is like easier for one person than another, right? So it’s easier for me to pick up a copy of a book and read it without glasses, and it is for you, but for you with the right tools, with the right glasses, or the right audio read or whatever, you and I can do the same things. And I had never really thought about accommodations in that way. Like, I don’t know what I don’t know what exactly I thought. But I just think like, most people, we’re in our own world. And we’re in our, and we experience the world in our own way. And it’s so often like, we don’t notice what a little accommodation can do. Or like, I just I know that that’s like, deeply ableist. And I know it’s so fucked up. And I know, it’s just the system and the world that we live in. Yeah. But the way that you write about this stuff, and and there’s a chapter all about, like these inventions, and these discoveries, and these creations and this movement, towards products and things that we use, all people use in their everyday life that were started, you know, by disability activists and just people with disabilities like the curb, and like the yellow bumps on the curb, and like all that stuff. And so I don’t know, there’s not really a question. Yeah, but I just, it was so like, A ha, lightbulb moment for me of like, I think you say there’s a part where you’re like, you know, a tool as a tool. Like if you need to drive a car to go 100 Miles versus walk, it doesn’t mean that you’re disabled doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you, but like the car is gonna help you do that faster, easier, with less discomfort, like, and that is what a cane can be for a blind person or that is what you know, whatever accommodation can be for whatever kind of person and I just, I don’t know, I just am so grateful for that. And I guess maybe the question is like, Why are we thinking about accommodations wrong?
Andrew Leland 25:03
Hmm? God, that is such a good question. Thank you so much for this reading of my book. It’s really you are just making me so happy right now.
Traci Thomas 25:11
It’s like, I loved it. I told you I loved it.
Andrew Leland 25:15
But no, I mean, I have the exact same experience, I think. And I think I think it’s just it’s like about a decentering of the non disabled experience. And I think it’s, I think it’s just a very human thing to think like, okay, there is like a normal, right? And the normal is, you read books with your eyes, you walk, you know, you travel with your legs, you listen to conversations with your ears. And as soon as you try to think outside of that, yes, paradigm where you’re like, oh, people can talk with their hands. Like a sign language that’s like, you know, it’s, it’s troubling. And it’s like, you know, you’re like the Princess and the Pea. And there’s like, Oh, what’s this uncomfortable thing happening here? That’s not right. And people get very, very invested in it. And, and, you know, and I think I think part of the shift that I had to come around to is this idea of accommodation, not as like, doing a favor for somebody, or like, you know, this, like charity model. But really, the idea that, like, if you’re going to, if you really are going to put your money where your mouth is, and treat people with dignity and equality, and include everyone, then you do have to reframe some of these ideas around what reading is or what speaking is, or what access is, and like the president of the National Federation of the Blind, I was interviewing him once and, you know, they’ve got this giant, I think it’s a former Bank in Baltimore, that’s their headquarters. I haven’t actually been there. But you know, he made the point to me, like, we pay a pretty sizable electricity bill every month to keep the lights on in here, those lights aren’t for us. We’re accommodating, decided people who come visit us, you know, and I mean, that’s, it’s like, he’s making the point for effect. But it’s also true, like, for most people who work there, like, they don’t need the lights on, but they pay for them to be on because sighted people are visiting all the time are coming there are studied employees. And so I think when you reframe things like that, it becomes a very different proposition to say like, well, what does inclusion mean? And it’s not like, oh, well, let’s like, be good people and pay an electricity bill to have the lights on, you know, it’s like, if you can just sort of think about all the combinations in that way of like, it’s important to us, for all of our students, to be able to get the course materials on the first day of class, instead of having the blind ones get the books, transcribed three months after classes started and have to completely hustle to catch up, which is a very common experience for blind students. You know, like, like, what, what would it take? And so this is, I think, the important thing about about accessibility that I think the world is, is moving towards, but But slowly,
Traci Thomas 27:46
Yeah, well, I feel like, you know, Privilege is such like a buzzword recently. And I think like, in thinking about accommodations, and and thinking about, like this more inclusive model, not only was it like a reminder of my privilege, but also it was a reminder that like this idea of disability justice is just that it’s not a favor, like it really is. Like it is the justice that’s owed to people just because they are people and like if you believe that everyone deserves the things that they need in life, whether that’s food, water, health care, that also includes access to books, that also includes access to people who can speak sign language, if that’s what you need, or wheelchair ramps or chairs that are comfortable, or whatever the fuck that it is that you need. Like, all of that is truly justice. And I think that like I understood that kind of like in a heady way, or like, in a way that’s like, I believe all people. But I think in reading your book, it really landed with me that like, like, you’re saying, it’s not charity, it’s not like a favor, I’m not doing you a favor by like, having an interpreter or whatever like that. If I want to be a person, who is who makes the world accessible to all people around me, which is what I want to do. It’s like I read these books, I want to be able to talk about them in a way that people who haven’t read them can understand what’s in them, etc. Like I have like that, there’s that that work as well. And it goes with everything. And I don’t know, it just again, just really like, made a huge impact on just the way that I look at the world. And this is really small. But I think my first sort of real glimpse into this. I have three and a half year old twins. And when you have twins more than a single 10 You rely on a stroller a lot. And I live in Los Angeles, and there are a lot of streets here that don’t have curbs to go down and when Yeah, to go down and with a double stroller and I remember getting so mad and being like, Well what if I was in a fucking wheelchair? Yeah, like I can kind of lift the stroller up and down or whatever. And this was like during COVID So it was like all I was doing was walking around outside we could I didn’t do indoor stuff. And I just remember getting so mad and being like, what if I was in a wheelchair? Like, what if I couldn’t lift up their stroller, and that was sort of like the first real moment of me being like, Oh, this isn’t like a nice thing to do for people, but your book, really, I just hammered it home. For me, I can’t get off the point.
Andrew Leland 30:15
It just, it makes me so happy. I mean, I, you know, I think I’ve kind of beat myself up a little bit about, like, you know, because I think the most hardcore, disabled disabled activists that I know, tend to be people who have been disabled their whole lives, and it makes sense that, right, that, you know, you’ve, I mean, just the experience of going through school, getting an education as a data disabled person, I mean, it just pushes you right up against it over and over, again, kind of on every level, and you know, I am, I have led this life of immense privilege, and it’s only and I’m just sort of like, just getting into the shallow end of experiencing, you know, inaccessible websites, or, you know, not having materials in an accessible format, when I’m participating in a workshop or whatever, you know, it’s just that just the shallow, shallow end. But in some ways, like hearing you talk about your experience of reading it, I think it’s kind of like the conversation about me, including my ableism, where, like, it might be a powerful experience to hear my perspective where I’m kind of less initiated, and I’m still figuring this stuff out, as I go to, because it is like I, you know, over the course of writing the book, I had to figure out, like, what accessibility even means, and, and I feel like your experience with your, with your stroller, is really powerful, because I think if you look at the sort of non disabled experience, we just like, as a society, I feel like there’s such a tendency to be like, you know, like, like, like, if you were on an app, like, if you were on an app, and you were trying to buy something, and the Checkout button was unlabeled, and you like, couldn’t check out, you would lose your mind, you know, people freak out. And they’re like, reading, you know, the, the reality is, like, as a disabled person, as a blind person on the internet, that’s like, whatever 60% of websites sometimes right then like, they just deal with it. And so I think if you try to, if you flip it and have that idea, like the, like the idea of paying for the lights in the in the blindness center, or experiencing lack of a curb cut as somebody with a stroller and imagining with a wheelchair, it’s just unacceptable. Like it’s unacceptable to have a website that you need to access your tax info and the there’s no checkout, you know, there’s no download button. And yeah, so I think I think expanding that experience from like, an inconvenient thing that sometimes happens do that pisses you off as a non disabled person, and just realizing that like, that is the daily experience of people living in an accessible world with disabilities.
Traci Thomas 32:29
And like, also the idea that like, it wouldn’t that if the world was more accessible for disabled people, it would also be more accessible for everyone. Like, it’s not as if these things are mutually exclusive. It’s not as if like, oh, this Checkout button exists, that means that it won’t exist for someone else. It’s not a zero sum situation. Like I think when we foster communities that are inclusive for all people, like, only good things come from that, like people are able to be more creative, more comfortable, they’re able to learn to be able to express themselves, all the things that allegedly make a better society, right.
Andrew Leland 33:02
100% Yeah, I mean, this is the principle of universal design, where you design for the edge cases, the sort of the outliers that we so often forget, and when you do the product, whether it’s a sidewalk with a with a curb, so that people with strollers people with with carts, or, you know, any number of other technologies that you could point to from, like the jacuzzi was was the typewriters, really, like in some ways that I write about the internet itself, grew out of this technology that’s designed for the edge case designed for people with disabilities. And it turns out to really benefit everyone. And yeah, you just, there’s so many examples of audiobooks. Yeah, the first audio books, the first LPs, you know, that when they were trying to cram an entire book onto a record, you know, the first records were, they only had like, a couple of minutes per side. And so those first long playing records were developed in consultation with the American Foundation for the Blind. And then yeah, the south like blind people were actually the first people to listen to LPs, and then then it hit the mainstream couple years later.
Traci Thomas 34:01
Speaking of audiobooks, I listened to your book on audio, some of it Oh, cool, and I love I love an audio book. And I’m wondering if you felt any pressure or like any responsibility in narrating your audiobook knowing that, you know, you’re writing this book towards blind people and that that’s probably a way that many people will consume your book. Was there any, like thing that you were thinking about as far as performance or anything like that?
Andrew Leland 34:27
I mean, the first thing I felt and this is like, the thing I feel a lot is guilt that I was able to read it visually you know, so it was it was a struggle I I blew the text up to basically could see half a sentence at a time on my screen and you know, inverted the colors and then when I got to the studio, they were like we can hear you scrolling so you can’t scroll by your reads what happened he like once upon a time, scroll scroll. There was a dog you know, and that then they cut out all those pauses so I’m glad to hear that you read it and I didn’t hear you hear any weird cuts or anything. But yeah, that book is Frankenstein, I think more than many audiobooks. But you know, when I talked to a lot of blind people who have lost their vision, as adults, like the the loss of the ability to read out loud is something that people often really feel and it’s hard to get Braille your Braille skills up to the point where you can read aloud that fluidly unless you learned it as a kid, and that’s something I’m working on. So I think, you know, there was there was a odd feeling of like, is, and also there was thoughts about like, is this going to be the last book that I’m going to be able to read aloud, you know, because it was like, it felt like I was pushing right up to the edge of like, next time, this is not going to be a thing. I have a friend Leona go down who had a great book called their plant eyes, it’s similar to what I’m doing. And she lost her ability to read visually years ago. And so she did what she called the Cyrano method where like, you know, Cyrano de Bergerac, where he’s like, sort of Romeo and Juliet thing where he’s like, talking to giving the romantic speech that his friend is whispering into his ear. So she just had her reading her book, and then she would somehow have figured out how to speak and listen at the same time, all to say that, like, yeah, the prevailing feeling was just one of like, a lot of a lot of mixed feelings during the audio book, because of that relationship with the printed word that I was both sort of like saying goodbye to, but also really immersing in. Yeah, it was intense.
Traci Thomas 36:23
I love that book. And I, you did a great job, actually. I want to talk a little bit about the politics of blindness, because there’s sort of these two warring factions in the blind community. One is blind people can do anything they want, and we don’t need your help. And let us do our own shit and fuck you. And then the other one is sort of like, we’re blind. And you need to take care of us sort of the vibe that I got. And the you sort of being non disabled people in both cases, right. It’s sort of both both groups sort of feel like they’re speaking to, you know, I think they are they’re speaking to politicians seem to non disabled people, non blind people, at least. How, how much did you know about sort of the politics and the lobbying and all that stuff around blindness? Were there surprises for you? What’s your takeaway? What What were your thoughts?
Andrew Leland 37:22
Yeah, it was fascinating. I had no idea about any of it. It was just there’s like this alphabet soup. It’s I mean, it’s kind of an each subject that you get into people you meet an expert. They’re like, well, the pP q and the zrh. You know, what are these things? You know, and it was like that with blindness, it’s like NFB versus ACB versus a FB and it took me a while to like, you know, for those those acronyms to start to mean anything? AM, I think one of the big divides that I encountered, I think you articulated it really well, which is, it comes back to this idea of accommodation. And really like, what, how you define blindness. And I don’t mean that in the sense of like, you know, less than 20 degrees of your visual field, you’re legally blind, but more like, is it a neutral characteristic? Or does it does it actually function as a handicap or a disability? And yeah, the NFB are hardcore, historically, taking the position that it’s a neutral characteristic, and one of the one of their presidents who’s a sort of like, celebrated guy in blind history kind of turn again, you know, he has this seminal banquet speech that he delivered at one of their conventions, blind, this handicap or characteristic, or another title that he published it under was like blindness or living or dying. And it was this real forceful rejection of a sighted worker for the blind named Father, Thomas J. Carroll, who wrote this very influential book when the first line was blindness is a dying, you know, and his his whole theory was, which, even if they wouldn’t maybe put it in such stark terms, I think you’ll find that a lot of workers for the Blind in places that sort of serve blind people, which is that like, you’re going through this very traumatic event, that sighted person is lost to you. And now you have to sort of reinvent yourself as a blind person and Jernigan, and then if the really push back hard against them, they say, like, I’m not dead, you know, there’s no, there’s no trauma, there’s no loss here. Like, I’m just a blind person. And yeah, like I have, like, you were saying, you know, I gotta read with my fingers instead of my eyes. But that’s an alternative technique. And once you figure out your alternative techniques, you’re good. And that idea is so powerful, I think it’s so important. And so like, I think, I went through a little bit of like, you know, the rocking boat, that sort of like was tipping one way or the other, and then like, by the end of the book had maybe settled a little bit. But I think that’s a really important idea. I also think that when you’re just losing your vision, it’s tough to hold, hold on to that extremity because there is grief and there is grieving that has to happen when you lose vision, maybe not if you’re born blind, but for those of us who have to go through it after living a lifetime with sight like so I think where I landed in the end was like, the bad political idea of blindness is incidental. It’s just like, doesn’t define me I can live the life I want. I still think that that’s brilliant and crucial. But I also think that that organization, the NFB, and just more broadly like that philosophy does leave out the experience of trauma and the experience of pain and loss and grief, that is not every blind person’s experience, but that I think it’s important to hold space for because there are a lot of blind people who have been through trauma and not just the trauma of blindness, but the trauma that I think is sort of associated with it, where whether it’s like violence of different sexual violence, or, you know, the experience of poverty or, you know, abuse in all different ways. So that’s something that the NFB has really been explicitly wrestling with. And there’s been the sort of series of scandals and sort of issues that they’re going through. But yeah, I think philosophically, I ended up with a sort of, in between mode where like, you have to acknowledge the grief, but then you can sort of move past it into this experience of more blindness being an incidental thing. And then the last thing I’ll say about it is that getting back to this idea of like blind thought, you know, fineness is totally incidental, then I think you do lose some of that feeling of like, its, its awesomeness, and its power, and like the reality that sort of it as a positive characteristic to so I’m kind of like triangulating in there, and I’m, and it’s still a work in progress for me thinking through these things.
Traci Thomas 41:18
Well, I think that if it’s a, you know, just a, what’s the phrase quite characteristic, a neutral neutral characteristic, then you also don’t have such thing as blind thought, if it is a neutral characteristic, and how could you have a community perspective etc, that is centered on this thing? Like a neutral characteristic is brown hair, and I don’t really have like brown hair thoughts, right? Like, that’s not like a part of my identity that I really even claim. So I think like, I don’t I don’t think that like, I mean, I think also part of me feels this way, because I am black. Yeah. And I am a woman. And I feel like being a woman is a neutral characteristic on its face, but so is being black, but in society. It is not in America, it is not so like, yes, maybe being blind is a neutral characteristic. If you are blind in a vacuum, but you’re not you’re blind in the United States, or you’re blind wherever you are in with however much money you have, and all of these things that make it possible to have something like blind thought or blind community. When you so in the book in the very, very, very, very, very beginning, you’re sort of like, I’m just gonna set off on my adventure to find blind communities. Like like how there’s deaf community, and you talk about how like the deaf community because they have language, there’s something there that’s sort of like easier to identify as Deaf community. Be because so much of humanity is based around language, and there isn’t like blind language in the same way that their sign language. Did you feel like you found blind culture blind? I guess, not blind community persecuted? I should have been saying blind culture this whole time. Do you feel like you found blind culture? Did you? Were you sure that you would flat find blind culture? If you did find it? Or did you think it was more like community people together with shared experience? Or do you you know, I guess those words are similar, but they’re different, right?
Andrew Leland 43:14
Culture and community? Yeah, yeah. Yeah. I mean, I think I did. And but then I think, as with all of these things, I kind of I went, I pendulums all over the place. So I think I found a really strong blind community and a blind culture. And I think there are things I could I could point you towards that are hallmarks of blind culture. That said, I also think one of the tricky things about disability because it’s not something that you’re necessarily born with, that your parents, you know, passed along to you, but it could be acquired. And with blindness, in particular, I think the majority of blind people don’t even identify as blind because they’re, like, 80 years old, and they’re sort of in denial, and they’re just sort of like, hanging on to the little scrap of vision they have and, you know, wouldn’t ever dream of calling themselves blind resist, like Blind Services, and are really struggling, you know, and so I think if I, if I include that whole population in what I’m thinking of as a community, you know, they’re they they’re not a part of the community. I think culturally, they might end up touching on some of the things that I associated with blind culture just by necessity. And the surprising thing about blind culture that I found is that at first, I thought that like blind techies are kind of like a subculture. Just like blind skateboarders are blind birders, but like, because the challenge of blindness is so bound up with access to information, whether it’s books or the internet, or signs in a space. You know, we think about like information technology like living in this sort of like super information age. By necessity, blind people have to become these like, hardcore hackers. And it’s not just like the ones who know Could coding languages like it’s kind of everybody, including the 80 year old, who’s just like trying to figure out a way to keep doing the crossword every week. So like, I’m gonna say like, when I think about blank culture, the one thing that every blind person I know has in common is that they’re just like, they’re not extremely online in the way that that expression of I kind of want to say that, like, they’re just, they are like, they are tinkerers, and they are hackers. And they like, there’s a really lovely blind artists named Emily cacio, who I talked to about her work. And she, she said that when she thinks about blindness, she thinks about problem solving. And, you know, I think that’s really connected to this, this sort of technological, this relationship to technology that all blind people have to have, because they rely on it to access basic information that we all need to get through our lives.
Traci Thomas 45:47
I have to ask you a really weird, random, small question, but it’s pertinent to my life, because I’m from Oakland, California. And I feel like a lot of the people in this book are in the Bay Area, is there a large blind community in the Bay Area? Or is that just a place that you went and did a lot of work and so a lot of the voices that we hear from are from there,
Andrew Leland 46:05
I’m so glad you picked up on that. There are a lot of blind people in the Bay Area. And I think relatedly are more importantly, there’s, there’s a really rich history of blind activity there. And, like going back well, before, you know, like this, sort of, I think it’s pretty well known, like, if you watch the movie crip camp, which I highly recommend, you know, the disability rights movement was born in the Bay Area, in the in the 70s. And late 60s, you know, there’s the famous sit in at the, at the building in San Francisco, protesting Department of Health, Education and Welfare and all that. But you know, blind people were involved in that, but but going back into the 19th century, with the California School for the Blind, you know, like the organized blind movement like that sort of first groups in the US, that said, enough of the paternalistic sighted teachers who are telling us that we can’t go to college, or we can’t do things for ourselves, like enough of that we’re going to organize, there’s only blind people allowed in this organization, and like, you know, a real like what you would associate with like the civil rights movement, you know, that’s, that starts going back into like the 1910s 1920s, in Oakland in Berkeley. So I think, you know, when you’ve got a history like that, and institutions like that, I think there is just going to be a draw a draw and Anna continuity, so that now you have places like the San Francisco Lighthouse in downtown San Francisco that is one of the most progressive and innovative like blindness, citadels in the country. And it’s not like Gallaudet, which is like the, you know, first fully deaf centric school in DC, but it’s, you know, it’s, it’s getting there. It’s close. It’s not close at all, but it’s, it’s a step in the right direction. And the I think, if there was if I had to point to anywhere in the country that had that, I mean, certainly like Baltimore, with the NFB, and they’re that giant fortress, but the Bay Area just has a really incredible history. And, you know, talking about technology to like, yeah, if you think about disability, and like, what it combines there is like this sort of radical politics of like having to fight against these institutions that are designed that are that are oppressing them. And this like, this necessary obsession with technology. And so like the barriers got all of that and a crucible. So it kind of makes sense that blindness would be so active there.
Traci Thomas 48:22
I’m a proud Oakland are so happy guy. You know, like sometimes you’re reading and you in because of your own life, you can’t pick up like little tiny things. But I was like, Am I making this up? Or is everybody here in the Bay Area, like hanging out? Let me ask you about how you write how many hours a day how often music or No, are you in your house? Do you go out? This part’s important. Are there snacks and beverages? Rituals, candles yoga? Like, how do you do it? Yeah, I guess for you also, like, how do you read back? Are you you blow everything up on a big screen? Are you listening back? Like how does that work for you?
Andrew Leland 49:02
That changed during the writing process in a way that I think if I was doing anything other than writing a book about blindness would have given me a nervous breakdown because it was so stressful to have to like, radically? No, no, I’m not just talking about like, I usually do yoga before I write but then I broke my ankle. So I couldn’t like this was like a fundamental reorientate reorientation to how I connect to language. But it was also crucial and I I’m into it now. Basically, giant, external monitor, white text on a black screen. font is in like 22 point font, but then also, like, cranked up to like 150% or something. So the letters are gigantic. And over the course of reading the book, I started using text to speech, I’m listening to a robot, read them back to me, and I got much faster with that. And now that so in the beginning, that felt weird, and I was just like experimentally trying it by the end of the book. I 100% of the time, the robot was talking to me Yeah, so I was sort of combo like, sometimes I would just like, be like, Okay, I’m gonna read read this entire chapter and then my eyes are wandering, but then if I’m like, was that a semicolon, you know, then I’m looking back. And it’s sort of a combination of looking and listening. I started reading the book in like the end of 2019, or thereabouts. And so then when the pin when lockdown started, and my kid, basically, all school and childcare was vaporized. I started waking up at five in the morning to write, because like, that was the only time that I felt protected. And that became a pretty ingrained habit. And so even like, this morning, I woke up at five, even though I’m not like on deadline or anything. But that just became so powerful that, you know, even if there was just like, you know, by the time he got up at like, seven, if the rest of my day was just spent, like homeschooling or going for a walk or making dinner, like at least I had that sacred two hours of writing, but no music because I’m listening, you know, so I’ve got to listen to the thing and I, but I never really could. I like music too much. So if something’s on I just start thinking about that. The music, average averages, I have a weird, very neurotic thing where a friend of mine once told me that he’s a writer, so I feel like there’s like extra juice in like, I like really. He’s like a mentor of mine, even though he’s my friend. If you drink coffee every other day, you you don’t get addicted for wine, you know, like you can live without it. But also like, this effects are more powerful. So I’m like very, very intense about like, Okay, today’s the day I’m like, going to start this new chapter. So that’s a coffee day, but then I can’t do it the next day. So, you know, I’m like, constantly like building this like, Tetris minefield for myself of like, when I get to drink coffee, and when I do, it’s wonderful. And but other than that, I drink it. A tremendous amount of tea. What kind of tea? Okay, I really liked black tea, but my dad turned me on to this tea. That’s like a fermented Chinese tea called poo. Err. Okay, it’s very multi and borderline stinky. I would say it’s like the kimchi of tea. It doesn’t smell like kimchi. But it’s like got that like phellinus tent. Okay, yeah. And I think in China like you don’t steep it as long as bonkers Americans do but I like to just steep it a lot and the thing I found about it is like you can really get yourself wired on it but not in the like teeth grinding up all night like hair pulling way that if you drink too much coffee you get or like you’re sick to your stomach It’s got it’s like somehow just a different chemical compounds. So you can like really blast things out but not with with fewer adverse effects.
Traci Thomas 52:35
And you drink your tea, just plain no milk, no sugar.
Andrew Leland 52:39
I love how deep we’re going on.
Traci Thomas 52:40
I love tea. I love tea. Most people talking about coffee on the show. So anytime someone says tea I’m like, say more.
Andrew Leland 52:45
I like black tea. With milk or milk alternative. Poo err. It doesn’t taste good. Like I like black tea with a little sweetness. So like if there’s like a sweetened oat milk or something that’s the best word cow milk. But the poor is not as good with the sweetness because you you’re kind of messing with that multi funkiness. So I’m gonna try my best I’m gonna flash of unsweetened almond milk, but I think just black. It’s good.
Traci Thomas 53:12
I love how many different milk to drink. I’m really impressed. I feel like most people have like, milk that they like, like I’m an almond milk. I’m a soy. I’m an oat I personally am a cow milk gal. I feel like I don’t hear a lot of people talking about like multiple milk options for beverages.
Andrew Leland 53:27
I don’t know how it happened. But our household has become oat and almond. And I feel like I put the the almond the unsweetened almond in the prayer. I put the oat in the black and the coffee.
Traci Thomas 53:38
I told you this part was important. I told you I gave you a warning. Okay. I think that I know who your grandfather is.
Andrew Leland 53:47
You probably do if you read the book. I I’d say it.
Traci Thomas 53:49
Do you say his name? I say his play? Oh, really?
Andrew Leland 53:53
I don’t say his name. I think a man will say it in a tortured way though. Because I’ve always been slightly tortured about like sharing that. But it’s in there you it’s public.
Traci Thomas 54:02
I will I was laughing because I was listening to that part. And I’m like in my kitchen cooking doing things. And then you’re like my grandfather who’s a writer and wrote about, you know, Jewish experience. Bah bah. And I’m like, Oh, cool. His grandfather’s writer. And then you’re like, in his play Brighton Beach Memoirs. And I’m like, This man is trying to act like his grandfather isn’t fucking meal Simon. And so then I’m like trying to Google you. But I’m like cooking, and I’m like, fucking I’ll get back to it later. But I pick a note. And then when I was preparing for this interview, I was like, I have to ask him if that’s actually his grandfather, if I was tripping? No, it is. That’s so cool. Grandfather. Did you know that you wanted to be a writer like did that? Did he at all inspire that or or no?
Andrew Leland 54:37
Had to have? Even if I’m not like explicitly, like, there, I stood in his study, like holding the pen that I would someday hold. You know, it wasn’t like that. But yeah, you know, my mom’s a writer as well as a writer. And I think, you know, just like you mentioned Brighton Beach Memoirs, like seeing that play, which is of all of his work, not all of his work, but like that trilogy is super autobiographical. You know? And there’s a lot about becoming a writer and I saw that at a very impressionable age and not just seeing it but like seeing it on Broadway like with all the glitz of like that it’s just you know made it emphasize the every writer I think at some point has to have some intoxication with the the allure of that then life but I think for me yeah, like I was I was sort of deeply infected with that from a pretty young age.
Traci Thomas 55:25
So cool. Cool, grandpa. Yeah, cool. What, what’s a word? You can never spell correctly on the first try?
Andrew Leland 55:32
Exercise? Oh, just embarrassing, because that’s like a pretty common word. But there’s something about the x, c and the x and the s. Yeah. And the absence of a Z?
Traci Thomas 55:41
Yeah, sure. I got it. I’m a terrible speller. I get it, I get it. I have a word that I can’t type, which is a word that I type constantly, which is episode. I always flip. I ended up with episode dough. I just put the D in the wrong spot all the time. But it’s like a word that’s so common in my life. And I can spell it like I know how to spell. I just do it wrong all the time. And that one always is a pain in my ass.
Andrew Leland 56:07
Thing about blindness and spelling is that you know, there’s all these debates about, like, if you because Braille is a pain in the ass to learn, it’s really hard. And a lot of blind people who become blind later in life just don’t even bother because like, or maybe they just learned enough to like, label a, a spice jar. But some people argue that like if if you only use a screen reader, you’re only listening to language. Oh, yeah, true literacy. And you won’t know that. You know, pseudoscience is spelled with a P. And it’s interesting to me as somebody who like, has always cared really deeply about not just like books and literature, but like the little minutia of literature and like a geek out over an italicized versus an italicized comma. And I think things like that. So like that. Yeah, the question of like, how words are spelled. And spelling is sort of a tricky one for for blind people. And it’s interesting, like once I started using the screen reader, I noticed I had fewer typos, because like the eye that whether it’s whether you’re visually impaired or not like it’s easy to miss the s s videoed versus episode, right. They’re sort of like the sort of thing but when you’re listening to it, and you hear an episode, you’re like that. That’s not right. Yeah. Like, I definitely got fewer typos going once I started using a screen reader.
Traci Thomas 57:18
That’s so interesting. So we’re recording this before your book is out in the world. So I will not ask you some questions that I ask people once the book is out, but it’s out today. Actually, it’s out today. Well, today we’re recording but when people are listening, it’ll be this coming on August, so right. Okay, so it’ll be out in the world by then everyone, but it’s a congratulations. Happy birthday. What comes next for you? Do you know? Do you have a plan? Or are you like, leave me the fuck alone? My book just came out today you asked.
Andrew Leland 57:51
Yeah, yeah. I have a plan, I should have a plan because it’s coming soon, you know, I think I can only expect to be allowed to, like promote my book and have that be my job for so long before I need to make more money and do something with myself. But um, while I was reading the book, I did some other freelance pieces that I really, really enjoyed doing. Like I did a piece about deaf blind communication. And it like and sort of branching out into reading about other disabilities, but still from this sort of, like, cultural social angle that you know, and also just like feeling really good about following my curiosity, like that’s the amazing thing about non being a nonfiction like writing narrative nonfiction is you can just be like, there is a troubling, confusing, fascinating thing. And ideally, somebody’s going to pay me to now like spend six to 12 weeks, just like immersing myself in it. And so that’s been a really gratifying experience, both doing like podcasts and radio stuff, but also magazine, I would love to keep doing that work. And I have like, a bucket of ideas that while I was writing the book, I was, you know, just like immersing myself in these disability spaces, I would, I would encounter these people or these ideas. And so now I’m finally like, in September, I think gonna have a chance to take that bucket out of the closet and fish around and see if there’s anything that that’s still good and, and there’s still a question to have, like, are those just a series of magazine stories? Or is that do they hang together enough for it to be a book, and so that isn’t gonna really figure that out too?
Traci Thomas 59:20
Cool. For people who love the country of the blind, what are some other books you might recommend to them?
Andrew Leland 59:28
I have to immediately recommend Georgina Kleege’s writing. She is a blind writer, recently retired from UC Berkeley, another Bay Area Bay Area blind this representation but um, she, I think for a lot of blind writers and readers is just like a really important figure. Her book sight unseen, was very important for me in the way that she wrote about her own blindness. But the way I tried to do like using that experience as a As a starting point, rather than just, you know, dwelling in what the experience is and then thinking about she like watches movies and goes to museums and thinks about representations of blind people. And she’s funny and brilliant and Yeah. And she has a book specifically all about blindness and art called more than meets the eye that I also really love. And a book called Blind Rage: Letters to Helen Keller. That’s a lot of that’s like, that’s what it sounds like it sort of creative nonfiction, written to Helen Keller, and sort of angry letters to Helen Keller sometimes, because as a blind child growing up, she was constantly being compared to Helen Keller, and sort of like frustrated with the Helen Keller myth. And the book also tries to do research and like, capture the Helen Keller that that sort of the real Helen Keller behind all this sort of mythologizing that happens around her. Is that enough?
Traci Thomas 1:00:52
Up to you if you have more if you have some that you feel like people should definitely read?
Andrew Leland 1:00:55
Yeah, well, I got I got one more.
Traci Thomas 1:00:58
Well, it’s a book podcast. So we take all the recommendations around here.
Andrew Leland 1:01:01
So one of the people who I encountered in writing the book who who really only shows up glancingly, but I wrote about him in this New Yorker piece I mentioned but his name was John Lee Clark, and he’s a deafblind poet in Minnesota. And he has a collection of poems that came out this year called how to communicate. And he’s got an an essay collection that’s coming out at the end of this year. Both of those books are from Norton and he you know how an in the UK you can like bet on anything like you can play. I if I if I had to put money down, I’d like Ladbrokes or whatever on who’s gonna win a MacArthur Genius Grant in the next like three years, I would put it on John Lee Clark, I think he’s just like, just like some of the stuff that we talked about about like, just decentering. And like reframing your thinking around like what an accommodation is or what disability is like this guy, he’s just writes against the grain in a way that like, every time I read him, I like, you know, sit up for my chair. And I’m like, in a different part of the room without realizing how I got there kind of feeling. So really recommend John Lee Clark’s essays and his poems.
Traci Thomas 1:02:03
Okay. Last question. If you could have one person dead or alive, read this book, who would you want it to be?
Andrew Leland 1:02:10
Hmm. So there’s a scene in the book where I’m walking down the street, in New York City, with my cane. And I catch the eye of this guy. And this is like, kind of early in my life as a cane user. And I can see he’s got this like, mean, look, and then he, he, like, looks me up and down. He goes, you can see. And I just felt it’s just like, really punctured me and bummed me out. And I feel like if he read the book, he would, I don’t want him to read it to be like, Oh, I hurt that guy’s feelings, like, and I feel so bad. Because like, he seemed like the kind of guy who knew he was hurting my feelings. And more just like, if you, you know, part of your thought experiment means I get to, like, force him to actually read the whole thing. Yeah. And I think, you know, he would come away with it with a appreciation for the experience of blindness. And the, the way that blindness is a spectrum, and that my experience of using a cane, and walking through the world with some site was a legitimate one, an important one for me. I would like that guy to think about that for a little while.
Traci Thomas 1:03:08
I wish we could find him now.
Andrew Leland 1:03:11
At that deli, I can tell you that. Yeah, he’s probably things out there all the time.
Traci Thomas 1:03:16
Well, Andrew, this was so great. Everyone, you can get your copies of the country of the blind, a memoir at the end of site, wherever you get your books. As I mentioned, the audio book is fantastic. Andrew narrates it. I think this is going to be a book that people are talking about for the whole year. So please read it so that you don’t feel left out later when we’re all talking about it. Thank you so much, Andrew.
Andrew Leland 1:03:35
Your questions were amazing. I guess I’m not supposed to say that as somebody who just got to be interviewed by you. But this was ridiculously fun. And I had thoughts that I didn’t have before which I think is the sign of that it was a good one. So thank you so much for this. I’m really grateful.
Traci Thomas 1:03:50
That makes me so happy. Thank you so much. And everyone else we will see you in the stacks.
Alright y’all, that does it for us today. Thank you so much for listening. And thank you again to Andrew Leland for being our guest. I’d also like to thank Juliana Kyian for helping to make this conversation possible. Don’t forget to listen on August 30 And Sam Sanders return to discus you made a fool of death with your beauty for the stacks book club. If you love the show and you want inside access to it, head over to patreon.com/thestacks and join the sacks pack. Make sure you’re subscribed to the stacks wherever you listen to your podcasts and if you’re listening through Apple podcasts or Spotify be sure to leave us a rating and a review. For more from the stacks. Follow us on social media at thestackspod on Instagram threads and tiktok and at thestackspod underscore on Twitter. And you can check out our website the sacks podcast.com. This episode of The Stacks was edited by Christian Duenas with production assistance from boring Tyree. A graphic designer is Robin McCreight. The Stacks is created and produced by me, Traci Thomas.
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