Years ago, just before I was first coming out as a cripple, I suggested that Crip Lit was in the place Queer Lit was 70 years ago: no literary awards, no trade publishers, and apart from a handful of small journals no coherent sense of community. (Worse, much of the literature being produced about disability was written by nondisabled people and perpetuating dangerous stereotypes.) But there was a lot going on under the surface, bursts here and there of activism and intercommunication. In 2016 I came up with the #CripLit hashtag, and Alice Wong and I started hosting regular Twitter chats. #CripLit did not iniate change but I believe it was part of what helped accelerate the change already underway.
The first queer literary awards (as far as I’m aware) began just over 50 years ago when in 1971 the Stonewall Awards were created. There are now many awards for queer literature—and many publishers, review journals, websites, and specialist bookstores; a whole ecosystem of Queer Lit. And these days most publishers are aware enough of homophobia to turn away fiction in which queerness signifies evil and/or the queers die tragically at the end. These days, most queer lit is produced by queer writers.
Crip lit is behind the curve. Until recently, vile ableist books like Jojo Moyes’ Me Before You (the crip equivalent of The Well of Loneliness) not only got published and become bestsellers but were also turned into hit movies (appalling and inexcusable in the twenty-first century). Even now, most novels by and about disabled people are reviewed by nondisabled critics. And as far as I’m aware, until a couple of years ago there were no major lit awards for books by disabled writers and/or about disabled characters.1 But things are changing
The first serious award for book-length literature by a disabled writer was awarded in 2021: the Barbellian Prize for a book of fiction or nonfiction by a disabled writer. It was won by Riva Lehrer for her memoir Golem Girl.
And last week the UK’s Society of Authors announced the ACDI Literary Prize for book-length fiction with disabled characters by disabled writers. So now there are two good literary awards for serious Crip lit. Not only that but we also have a smattering of speciality publishers, at least one bookstore that I know of, and a handful of literary journals. The pace of change is accelerating!
I wonder where we’ll be in five years…
1 There were and are other awards, of course, but super-specialised.
- Disability History Association awards Outstanding Book prize—but it’s so specialised it’s mostly not relevant for most writers.
- The Oleb Books Personal Essay Award (OBPEA) for writers with disabilities
- Dolly Gray award which recognises “authors, illustrators, and publishers of high quality fictional and biographical children, intermediate, and young adult books that authentically portray individuals with developmental disabilities, such as autism spectrum disorders, intellectual disabilities, and Down syndrome.” The authors do not have to be disabled.
If you know of others, please drop a comment below or send me email.