Find out what your body knows

Collection exploring intersection of feminism and disability launches Jan. 19

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Students and professors alike are invited to attend the book launch of What Our Bodies Know: Essays at the Intersection of Feminism & Disability on Jan. 19, held at the Centre Space of the U of M’s John A. Russell Building. 

The student-led book reflects on personal life experiences relating to disability and feminism, and is edited, designed and facilitated by Abbey Bellisle, Opal Premack, Laura Wiebe and Christine Stewart. The launch will be from 3 to 5 p.m. and will feature live readings, a Q&A and a book signing. 

The idea for the project stemmed from a final assignment given by Stewart, a professor in women’s and gender studies at the U of M, in her class titled Feminisms and Disability in Contemporary Literature. Stewart also helped facilitate the book-making process. 

The assignment had students examine moments from their own lives using concepts from the course, and to further understand them through creative writing.

Stewart first gave students a similar assignment in a previous iteration of her course, and after being impressed by students’ work, she felt the need to give the assignment again and use the student work somehow. 

“The second time I taught the class, I asked students if they wanted to do something like this,” Stewart explained. 

“And then by the time the third class happened, we were hoping we’d have enough essays that students would volunteer to be in the book.”

Wiebe, copy editor and one of the writers for the book, said the class the essays were written for had students take a “very difficult look” at their lives and the ways direct or indirect experiences of disability affected them. 

“It is a deeply emotional process, in a good way,” Wiebe said. 

“I find that, moving forward, just after the experience of writing it and handing it in and being a part of the book process, it’s changed the foundation of how I view disability and its relation to my life,” she said. 

Wiebe said the process of creating the collection helped build a sense of community for those involved. She said this feeling is sometimes missing in an academic environment, where students are focused primarily on getting their degrees and do not always have the opportunity to hear from those with similar experiences.

Stewart added that, amidst all this, she has seen several students begin her class with a “distant relationship to disability.” These students have not exactly identified as having a disability but may have suspected a disability or suffered from chronic pain or mental illness, and later understood themselves differently and identified as having a disability. 

Wiebe noted that the personal journey of self-identifying as having a disability is a big one. 

“A lot of the times within our society disability is tied with incapability, which it absolutely isn’t,” she said. 

Wiebe said disability is something that is “personally defined” and can have positive outcomes, such as access to a great community that provides a different perspective on the ways to move through life.

Stewart said that she hopes students feel welcome to attend the book launch and celebrate with them. 

“I know that there is some interest by faculty, but this is really a student-generated piece of work.”