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Deaf Characters in Novels and Short Stories

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Updated December 20, 2008

There are plenty of novels and short stories with deaf characters to choose from, from classics to contemporary literature. Both adult and child literature have deaf characters. In the older books, deaf people are often portrayed negatively and myths perpetuated, by uninformed hearing writers. In addition, early deaf writers' characters tended to be uneducated, and experienced much discrimination.

Older Literature

According to the Gallaudet Encyclopedia of Deaf People and Deafness, although there were deaf writers of novels with deaf characters earlier, these early writers did not write that well. One of the better early writers was Pauline Leader, who wrote And No Birds Sing. That book featured a deaf Jewish girl, and the story did not have a happy ending. This rare book, published in 1931, can be found at the Gallaudet University library, in both the archives and on the shelf.

However, most early stories with deaf characters were written by hearing writers. One of the earliest was written in 1720 by Daniel Defoe, who went on to write Robinson Crusoe. Defoe's father in law taught deaf children.

Contemporary Literature

Fortunately, there are dedicated individuals on the internet who have taken on the challenge of tracking newly published books with deaf characters. One site is Pajka's blog, "Deaf Characters in Adolescent Literature." The site started out focused on books for teens, but expanded to include children's literature. From time to time, the site also includes postings about deaf comic book characters. Now and then there are also posts about non-fiction books.

Another source is the MyShelf.com site on deafness, "Deaf characters in fiction." The site divides its capsules and reviews into six categories:

  1. Children
  2. Juvenile
  3. Teen/Young Adult
  4. Misc. Fiction
  5. Mystery
  6. Romance
Plus, the Rochester Institute of Technology's Wallace Library maintains a listing of books with deaf characters.

Anthologies of Short Stories

There are also anthologies of stories with deaf characters. One anthology is No Walls of Stone: An Anthology of Literature by Deaf and Hard of Hearing, edited by Jill Jepson and published in 1992. This book features short stories by both deaf luminaries and lesser known writers.

Another is Angels and Outcasts: An Anthology of Deaf Characters in Literature, edited by Trent Batson and Eugene Bergman. This book has fourteen short stories from both the nineteenth century and the twentieth century. It includes the story "Why it was W-on-the-Eyes," a short story by Margaret Montague about a deaf boy at a deaf school, written by the wife of the superintendent of a school for the deaf.

Another anthology collection (which has more than just short stories) is the The Deaf Way II Anthology: A Literary Collection of Deaf and Hard of Hearing Writers, published in 2002 by Gallaudet University Press.

Additional Resources

"Deaf characters and deafness in science fiction" is an article by Robert Panara and Harry Lang that was published in the Deaf American, volume 39, number 3, 1989. (This publication is available at Gallaudet University library.) Another Deaf American article is "Deaf characters in short stories: a selection bibliography," volume 29, number 2, 1976.

Sources:

"Literature, Fictional Characters In," in Van Cleve, John V., ed. Gallaudet Encyclopedia of Deaf People and Deafness. McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1987.

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