Book Review: Typed Words, Loud Voices (Autonomous Press, 2015)

Typed Words, Loud Voices, (Autonomous Press)

Typed Words, Loud Voices, ed. Amy Sequenzia and Elizabeth J. Grace, Autonomous Press, Fort Worth Texas, 2015.

“I, and many typists like me, decided that we will simply continue to type our words, and making our voices loud, ignoring the naysayers. They don’t know our stories and our individual journeys. I am convinced they don’t care. So they do not matter. The fact that they don’t believe in us does not make our experience less real. Our experiences matter.” – Amy Sequenzia

Defining a person’s voice by their ability or inability to produce verbal speech is limiting. Human communication exists well beyond the realm of speech – and for those who type to communicate either some or all of the time, typed words are a portal through which their thoughts travel to the outside world. The value of these words are in no way diminished by their author’s ability to move their mouths and produce speech – yet this is the very bias and prejudice which continues to follow non-speaking autistics and other non-speaking individuals who communicate via non-speech methods.

In its first wave of book releases, Autonomous Press offers Typed Words, Loud Voices – an anthology of essays, poems, and other pieces by individuals who communicate via non-speech methods. Included in this book are non-speaking authors who rely on typing to communicate, non-speakers who use letterboards or the rapid prompting method (RPM) to communicate, and speaking individuals who communicate part of the time by typing.

As is the case with the other books in Autonomous Press’ initial releases, Typed Words proves to be a groundbreaking work, providing a window into the thoughts, feelings, and experiences of those who communicate by non-speech methods. Accurately and appropriately titled, the collection’s authors speak to the reader from every point in the spectrum of human feeling with a variety of voices: sparkling wit, sarcasm, blunt and lucid honesty, measured and careful logic, stunningly poetic, joyful, sorrowful, angry, defiant, and determined. The reader encounters a chorus of voices that emerge from different realities, backgrounds, and, as co-editor Amy Sequenzia revealed in the above quote, experiences.

A couple of commonalities emerge from the voices within this collection. The first, sadly an experience shared by a good percentage of the contributors, is the discounting of their own narratives and messages as unreliable, or their voices and messages being stolen by others. Contributor Aleph Altman-Mills speaks of this in her poem, “Keys”:

“They took my mouth.
Split my lips into social scripts,
poured shoe polish words down my throat
I still can’t stop coughing up.”

At times, the contributors have been told that their communications require either reinterpretation by others or to be made to conform to expected norms. Contributor Bridget Allen describes the pressure to communicate via verbal speech in her essay, “Notes on Not Speaking”:

“When I cannot speak, it is because I cannot speak. Don’t make this into something else. I am not shy. I am not too upset to speak. Please do not tell me to calm down. My emotional distress and my ability to verbalize are not linked. Do not imply that if I could stop being overly emotional I would suddenly be able to communicate in a manner that fits in your comfort zone. My emotions play into my speaking only in that any complicated task is more difficult to carry out when under duress. That’s a fairly universal human experience.”

Contributor Michael Scott Monje, Jr. speaks of expectations to conform in their piece, “Face My Morning Face”:

“Do you see? Your standard expectations are accessibility issues. I conform to teach you. That is not who I am though, so when you state that my brain is high-functioning, you’re actually attempting to reward me for leaving it chained…I spoke in my voice once, and everyone thought I was insane.”

(It should be noted that the editors chose to preserve the grammar and syntax of the original submissions for the anthology.)

The second commonality expressed by many of the authors is that non-speech methods such as typing, RPM, and letterboards allowed them to break out from places of darkness, anger, isolation, frustration, and loneliness. For example, contributor Emma Zurcher-Long expresses this in her poem, “To Those”:

“Typing gifts me with serious flames
igniting silent thoughts
now lit in glowing, neon bright, poster paint that confuses some,
but others radiate hope and ecstatic enthusiasm.
It is to those
my words twirl and spin for.”

Contributor Stephanie H. underscores this also in her essay, “Sometimes Typing Is The Only Way”:

“When I type I can be me. I can say the hard stuff. I can talk when my body otherwise is silent. I can be me. I can do what I need to. I can make sense of the confusion. My hands no longer are objects that are out of my control. They focus long enough to do what I need. My typing may appear chaotic, even wild, but it is very controlled. My moans are quieter, the stress goes away. Everything makes sense. My thoughts are tools, not wisps of ideas that flee me at a moment’s notice. Everything is clear. Everything is right.”

These two commonalities stand amongst the many reasons why Typed Words is such an important and very necessary work. This anthology serves to challenge several currently common – and dangerous — assumptions:

  • that verbal speech is the only acceptable method of human communication;
  • that one’s humanity, personhood, or individual worth is tied to the ability to produce verbal speech;
  • that the presence or lack of speech ability is indicative of a person’s intellect;
  • that spoken or written communications not conforming to common standards of grammar and syntax are less valuable or reliable than those communications which do; and,
  • that the end goal of every non-speaking person should be the ability to produce verbal speech.

Typed Words is just the beginning, friends. Autonomous Press’ initial entry into the publishing world with its first wave of books is formidable and revolutionary because of the voices, messages, and intent within. If Typed Words is any indication of the press’s future, we can look forward to unique and groundbreaking work that is both academically and artistically significant. Cheers to Typed Words – and the rest of Autonomous Press’ future catalog.

(N.I. Nicholson)

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