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Between Two Worlds: Memoirs by Children of Deaf Adults

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How do you celebrate Deaf History Month?Alice L. Hagemeyer, Photo by Ricardo LopezAlice L. Hagemeyer, Photo by Ricardo Lopez

As a librarian, during this month I usually spend some time thinking admiring thoughts about Alice L. Hagemeyer, whose energy, spirit, and determination propelled service to the Deaf in libraries in Washington, D.C., where she worked for 34 years, and nationwide. Perhaps you would like to celebrate the month, which spans March 13-April 15 each year, by investigating some of the primary sources from the annals of Deaf history and culture gathered in this enlightening blog post from the Library of Congress. And, enjoy a book or two from NYPL's list of books for all ages by Deaf authors and on the Deaf experience.

One of the ways the New York Public Library has commemorated this month over the past few years has been by inviting hearing authors with Deaf parents, also known as CODAs, who have written memoirs to share their stories. CODAs often have a foot in each world: the Deaf and the hearing. Those who become certified interpreters as a result of growing up bilingual — fluent in both sign language and the vernacular — translate both the words and the worlds of those speakers of sign.

Many CODAs have written compelling tales of their lives and the lives of their families; here are a few you can find at NYPL:

Hands of My Father: A Hearing Boy, His Deaf Parents, and the Language of Love
by Myron Uhlberg
Also available as an ebook
The good and bad times of growing up in Brooklyn in the 1930s through 1950s. Uhlberg has written several children's books, some of which have Deaf characters, notably The Printer.

 

Signing in Puerto Rican: A Hearing Son and His Deaf Family
by Andres Torres
An only child of deaf Puerto Rican parents living in New York City, Torres grew up speaking A.S.L., Spanish and English. He recounts his rich life including time spent studying for the priesthood, his path toward becoming an activist for Puerto Rican independence, and warm family gatherings with his many deaf aunts and uncles.

Deaf Hearing Boy: A Memoir
by R. H. Miller
A frank retelling of life in Ohio, on the farm and in the big city, during the 1940s-'50s. Miller, who later became a professor of English, takes us up to 2002 by which time the isolation of Deaf people that his parents experienced had begun to fade.

 

A Loss for Words: The Story of Deafness in a Family
by Lou Ann Walker
Walker, whose other works include a book about Deaf education in the U.S., writes tenderly of growing up in Indiana, the difficult separation when she went off to college in Boston, and the overarching, palpable love between her and her parents.

In Silence: Growing Up Hearing in a Deaf World
by Ruth Sidransky
An intimate portrait of life in 1930s-'40s Bronx and Brooklyn, and Sidransky's growing advocacy for the Deaf.

 

Burn Down the Ground: A Memoir
by Kambri Crews
Also available as an ebook
This N.Y.C.-based comedic storyteller shares her unconventional childhood in rural Texas, her conflicted relationship with her felon father, and her keen feeling of being an outsider in the Deaf community.

Kasher in the Rye: The True Tale of a White Boy from Oakland, Who Became a Drug Addict, Criminal, Mental Patient, and Then Turned 16
by Moshe Kasher
Kasher, the son of deaf Orthodox Jewish parents and a stand-up comedian who has lived a bi-coastal life, takes us on a rollicking ride.

 

The Silents
by Charlotte Abrams
Life in Chicago during the Depression and World War II. Abrams shows the value of a close family and community when her mother begins to lose her vision and needs to make difficult decisions to stay connected with the world.

My Sense of Silence: Memoirs of a Childhood with Deafness
by Lennard J. Davis
His rendering of the details of daily life make this memoir by a child of working-class British immigrants growing up in the Bronx of the 1950s especially poignant.

 

For more books by CODAs, check out this rich bibliography from Rochester Institute of Technology.

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