Howdy folks! We at Barking Sycamores have wonderful news to share with you.
Back in March 2016, Barking Sycamores joined the Autonomous Press family when Managing Editor N.I. Nicholson became a press partner. Recently, AutPress began rolling out Neurodiversity Matters, a network of neurodivergence-focused blogs on a wide variety of topics. At Sycamores, we’re proud to be one of the first to join a growing network that promises to feature brilliant, stunningly written, and transformative work by ND authors, particularly those whose voices are typically marginalized in mainstream publishing and media.
On that note, we’re making our debut on the network by publishing Issue 11 and forthcoming issues at our journal’s new home. Our publishing format and frequency will remain the same: 3 posts per week, with 1 piece of literature or art per post, until the issue has completed. Past issues will remain available in HTML format at our old site until they’re collated into each year’s anthology. We’ll also continue to offer single issues and our yearly anthologies listed here and for sale at the AutPress Store.
We’re very excited about our move, and we’ll be doing our best to update our listings all over the web over the next several months. In the meantime, look for an announcement about Barking Sycamores: Year Two!
In the meantime, please point your browsers and bookmarks to our new site:
We’re delighted to announce that Barking Sycamores editor-in-chief N.I. (Ian) Nicholson has joined Autonomous Pressas the Coordinating Editor for its NeuroQueer Books imprint. Ian will continue in his current role as the editor-in-chief of Sycamores, so you’ll be seeing a lot more of him in the world of neurodivergent literature. This development comes at an exciting time for the journal, as the Barking Sycamores: Year One anthology is being released by Autonomous Press in March.
In March 2016, Autonomous Press also releases the Spoon Knife Anthology, co-edited by Ian and Autonomous Press partner Michael Scott Monje, Jr. Michael, a frequent Sycamores contributor, also has her novel Imaginary Friends coming out from Autonomous this month.
We at Barking Sycamores are VERY EXCITED to announce that Barking Sycamores: Year One, a collection of our first four issues, is available from Autonomous Press on its NeuroQueer Books imprint. The anthology is available both in paperback and as an e-book. The ebook is immediately available, and comes free with the purchase of a paperback.
“I’m now 63 years old, quite old for a person with polio. I often joke that, for those of us with lifelong disabilities, no matter our chronological age, disability adds 20 years. It’s very important to me during my elder years to ensure that the disability history knowledge that is locked in my head is passed on.”
In the central public discourse of American history, many stories are forgotten or left out – namely, of those who are not white, middle-class, male, and nondisabled. Due to the efforts and struggles of marginalized peoples, this trend has been changing. However, progress has been achingly slow, and oftentimes the histories of marginalized peoples are treated as simply “additions” to American history. It is ludicrous, for example, to conclude that the whole history of Black people or of women can be concisely compacted into a one-month celebratory period.
In truth, these histories exist as threads complexly woven into the broader American narrative. Yet some histories – such as that of disabled people – barely register to most in the grand scheme of things. The most that an elementary or secondary school student may be taught, if at all, is about the existence of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. With the dearth of such narratives, Fading Scars: My Queer Disability History is a crucial work in disability studies and history.
If one elder is a whole library, as quoted from a Chinook woman by Elizabeth J. Grace in the editorial forward of the book, then Fading Scars is a valuable and essential gift to the world, indeed. Written in autoethnographic style, OToole recounts a history of the disability rights movement from a unique perspective of her personal witness, augmented with information from other oral histories and additional research. First, it presents living history derived from the author’s memories and experiences, written in plain, accessible language. For example, in Chapter 6, “Dancing Through Life”, the author talks about her experiences with disabled poet Cheryl Marie Wade while working with disabled artist Patty Overland on a dance piece in the early days of the Axis Dance Company:
“Enter Cheryl Marie Wade (disabled), the original gnarly woman and a seriously kickass arts activist. Cheryl was an accomplished poet, playwright and performer/director with Wry Crips, a disabled women’s theater group. She had a strong artistic vision and wrestled us all into creating a polished, professional piece. One of our biggest challenges came from the lack of disabled professional dancers. In those pre-YouTube days there was no way for people to see the work that was being created, by us and other disabled artists. So we relied heavily on Cheryl to create that which was not yet imagined, a job she did beautifully.”
Secondly, this history reveals several points where the disability rights movement intersects with other social justice movements, with different groups providing support for each other. This occurs at several points in the book, including Chapter 2, “Flexing Power: San Francisco 504 Sit-In.” OToole describes the help and support that disabled protesters received from the Black Panthers during a 1977 sit-in of the San Francisco offices of the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare:
“During the first week the FBI worked hard to isolate us from sources of support. I happened to be in the lobby the first night that the Black Panthers brought us dinner. The FBI blocked them and told them to leave. The Panthers, being extremely sophisticated about how to manage police interactions, merely informed the FBI that they would be bringing dinner every night of the occupation. They would bring the food, they would set it up, and they would leave. If the FBI prevented them from doing that they would go back to Oakland and bring more Black Panthers until the food got delivered to the protesters. The FBI soon backed down.”
Thirdly, the text is organized in such a way to be an easily consultable reference. The majority of the book’s chapters open with a summary of the contents and close with a “Just the Fact’s Ma’am” section which presents brief, essential facts from the chapter and a “Resources” section which lists the works cited in the chapter. This organization is a definite strength, making the text accessible to a wide variety of audiences, including: the casual reader, independent scholars, secondary school students, and academics, just to name a few.
While OToole admits that the history she shares in this text is through her own lens, Fading Scars is nonetheless an expansive and detailed text that adds significantly to the study of disability history. Along with Typed Words, Loud Voices and Defiant, this book is evidence of a strong and promising future for Autonomous Press as it works to help build disability and neurodivergent literature and studies in academic, education, and artistic arenas.
“Suddenly Clay realized that Dr. Williams’s questions were not really designed to make him feel better. He wiped away the tears that had pooled in his eyes. Dr. Williams had already seen him cry once today. Once was enough.”
As neurodivergent folk, our stories are often told about us and yet without us. Without our consent – or by consent gained through dishonest means – our lives are chopped up to bits; used as inspirational porn; distilled into sound bites; or, reduced down to tropes, clichés, or stereotypes.
Michael Scott Monje, Jr. is one of a significant cadre of autistic writers who are changing this trend. Defiant is part of the ongoing saga of Clay Dillon, the autistic protagonist to whom they first introduce readers in their novel Nothing Is Right. In fact, Clay’s entire story can be likened to a piece of music in multiple movements; at the time of this review, Monje, Jr. is publishing yet another piece of Clay’s story in a web serial novel Imaginary Friends.
Set twenty-three years after the first novel in Clay Dillon’s story, Defiant begins shortly after Clay discovers that he is autistic. Clay is now an adjunct instructor at a local university and his partner, Noahleen, has epilepsy and is unable to hold down regular employment due to health issues. When the novel opens, Clay is in a session with Dr. Williams, a psychologist to whom he turns for help – not to talk about his autism, but to answer his big question: “What do I do next?” In other words, Clay is seeking real, workable strategies to help him manage his problems and live a productive, happy life.
However, from this point Clay begins a difficult, painful, and frustrating journey as he struggles with a multiplicity of things, including: an unhelpful therapist pushing him towards allistic performance; communication difficulties resulting from working against his own neurology; how to support his partner Noahleen; sensory difficulties; workplace issues, including obtaining what he needs to do his job effectively; sexual orientation and gender identity issues; meltdowns, one of which leads him to injure himself; and body image issues involving weight gain since his teenage years.
Defiant is a unique, individual fictional narrative that at the same time depicts a common real-life autistic narrative – the struggle against external forces demanding compliance from autistic people. Clay Dillon’s entire epic is that of an autistic person conditioned and pushed into compliance and allistic performance since childhood – and although he discovers strategies and individual moments of defiance earlier in his life, it is in this novel that we see adult Clay truly defiant and triumphant.
Monje, Jr.’s lucid and starkly honest writing creates an open window through which we see Clay’s struggles and inner world. Through that window, the reader is drawn into his world, watching over his shoulder – or perhaps more accurately, watching from inside his head and heart. Nothing is censored or hidden from the reader’s view. And his frustration, rage, sorrow, and anguish when he collides with walls – both literally and metaphorically – are very painful to read.
But it was that closeness – and the pain in seeing him struggle – that made me root and cheer for Clay throughout the entire novel. The author naturally avoids the typical tropes of autistic fictional characters that have often plagued modern literature, film, television, and other media in that Clay is not a naïve, innocent savant. He is a fully fleshed, fully human character possessing an incredible amount of feeling and insight, and with an inner world that is at times messy, chaotic, horrifically dark, and morbid. He is the product of, amongst many other things, a dysfunctional family of origin from which he’s had little to no support. But he is also a product of self-reliance and an incredibly strong will to survive and thrive. You can’t help but cheer for him as he moves from compliance to defiance by facing each of his problems one by one – including a final showdown with Dr. Williams.
Narratives such as that of Clay Dillon seek to change the face of autistic representation in literature. Besides showing a full-bodied, believable autistic protagonist, Defiant seizes the reader by the heart and makes them feel Clay’s pain throughout his trials. This is a book that hurts to read – and it should hurt – and the reward of watching Clay succeed at the end is intrinsically gratifying. Defiant is a critical example of neurodivergent literature, and a key work that will build and develop this genre in the future.
“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.
NeuroQueer Books from Autonomous Press seeks work for its upcoming Spoon Knife Anthology. Quoting from the call from submissions on the Autonomous Press website (http://autpress.com/):
“We are happy to announce that we are seeking submissions of poetry, fiction, and memoir for an upcoming collection called The Spoon Knife Anthology. This book will be released as one of the kickoff projects for AutPress’s NeuroQueer Books line, which focuses on neurodivergence and disability as they intersect and interact with queer issues. This includes queering disability and neurodivergence, as well as discussing how it functions or fits with other aspects of a queer identity.”