For my second round with the Krew, we again discussed my paper exploring the intersections of race and disability. This time, we looked at the section analyzing Francis Ellen Watkins Harper’s Iola Leroy (1892). The novel follows the Leroy family from a generation before the Civil War, up through the War itself, and the years immediately following. Marie Leroy is a slave who marries her white master, and has two children by him, Iola and Harry. The children are light-skinned enough that they are raised to believe they are white. When circumstances reveal the truth, they get involved in the Civil War and racial activism during Reconstruction. “Disability” appears in the novel as a metaphor of race prejudice, as the “disabilities of color,” and as a permanent condition that limits function, as when Harry is injured in the war. But disability, as a stigmatization of bodily difference, also appears implicitly in two characters: Tom, an escaped slave with unspecified “defects,” and Dr. Gresham, a white doctor with the Union Army, who is missing an arm. Their disabilities function differently depending on their race, but both contrast with the essential able-bodiedness and beauty of the Leroys.
At the first meeting of the Kerouac Krew, I (Andrew Sydlik) met with colleagues Matt Connolly and Ayendy Bonifacio to discuss a paper I’m working on for my portfolio project at The Ohio State University. The paper explores the intersections of disability, race, and gender in two nineteenth-century African American texts: Frances Ellen Watkins Harper’s novel Iola Leroy (1892) and Katherine Davis Chapman Tillman’s novella Beryl Weston’s Ambition. I seek to bring together literary Disability Studies and Black/African American Studies because not much work has connected theorizations of disability and race, especially in regards to texts by nineteenth-century African American authors. Developed from a seminar paper done for Adeleke Adeeko’s 6757 African American Literature: 1746-1900 course in fall 2012, my investigation looks at how each text’s version of the “racial uplift” narrative reflects African American attitudes toward disability, scientific racism, gender stereotypes, and white middle class norms at the end of the nineteenth century. As this is a 34-page paper, we were only able to discuss the intro section, the first 10-12 pages, which describes the need to bring together Disability Studies and Black Studies, and some possibilities for doing so in a literary context.