Warren Stories: Raymond Luczak

Our Warren Stories series turns the spotlight on writers, readers, and artists within our community. Here, we’ll share their work, artistry, and personal stories in our effort to uplift every member of our community and make their voices heard. Have a story you’d like to tell? Contact us today!

Today, we’re going to hand the mic to Raymond Luczak, a writer and founder of Handtype Press, a company that showcases the finest literature and art created by signers, Deaf and hearing alike, or the Deaf or signing experience the world over. Raymond will be presenting at the Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) this year at two separate events: 1). A reading called “The Future Is Disabled,” and 2). A panel discussion about autobiographical fiction with Erica Jong and Lidia Yuknavitch. He’ll also be participating in a joint reading sponsored by the Disability Lit Consortium on Thursday night. On Sunday, he’ll be meeting with an ASL book club to discuss his book Assembly Required: Notes From A Deaf Gay Life.

Raymond was raised in Ironwood, a small mining town in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Number seven in a family of nine children, he lost much of his hearing due to double pneumonia at the age of eight months.

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I didn’t know that I was going to become a writer when my maternal grandmother suddenly died of a stroke. I was about to turn 12 years old. As the only person who was deaf in my family, I didn’t understand what, exactly, was going on and felt rather left out. I didn’t know that I should be more insistent about making sure that I was fully aware of what was going on, but I wanted to be loved, so I didn’t make any demands.

Her death affected me so deeply because she was the only one in my immediate family who’d instinctively understood that words weren’t really what I wanted. I wanted a direct acknowledgment of my presence and the feeling of being accepted as I am. She always looked quietly into my eyes when she gave me a shiny copper penny every Sunday after we went to Mass. It was around this time that my speech therapist had given me homework: to try my hand at writing limericks, a five-line form with two end-rhymes. When I tried to write one about a witch in a ditch, something inside me cracked open. I didn’t know what it was, but this was something I could do.

Writing became a weapon of power at a time when I’d felt powerless.

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After high school graduation, Luczak went on to Gallaudet University, in Washington, D.C., where he earned a B.A. in English, graduating magna cum laude. He learned American Sign Language (ASL) and became involved with the deaf community, and won numerous scholarships in recognition of his writing. He took various writing courses at other schools in the area, which culminated in winning a place in the Jenny McKean Moore Fiction Workshop at the George Washington University. In 1988, he moved to New York City. In short order, his play Snooty won first place in the New York Deaf Theater’s 1990 Samuel Edwards Deaf Playwrights Competition, and his essay "Notes of a Deaf Gay Writer" won acceptance as a cover story for Christopher Street magazine. Soon after, Alyson Publications asked him to edit Eyes of Desire: A Deaf Gay & Lesbian Reader, which, after its appearance in June 1993, eventually nabbed two Lambda Literary Award finalist nominations (Best Lesbian and Gay Anthology, and Best Small Press Book). He hasn't stopped since! In 2005, he relocated to Minneapolis, Minnesota, where he continues to write, edit, and publish.

There have been many turning points in my writing career, but I think the publication of my essay “Notes of a Deaf Gay Writer” as the cover story of Christopher Street magazine (which was considered the gay New Yorker of its day) in December 1990 started it all. It eventually led to my first book contract, which was to edit what became known as Eyes of Desire: A Deaf Gay & Lesbian Reader (Alyson, 1993). The rest was history. I’ve written and edited more than 20 more books since then.

At one point I wrote a lot about the Deaf experience, which I still do but not to the degree as in the past. In the last few years, I have been exploring the disabled queer experience through three titles published in the last four years: QDA: A Queer Disability Anthology (Squares & Rebels, 2015), The Kinda Fella I Am: Stories (Reclamation Press, 2018), and now Flannelwood (Red Hen Press, 2019). I’m not sure where I’ll go next with my work, so the only way to find out is to keep writing. Right now, I’m focusing on stepping outside my comfort zone as a poet and discovering what’s popping up on my computer screen. I like the fact that, as a poet, I find each new collection trying not to repeat what I’ve already done. It’s very possible that I’ll have jumped back into fiction when I return to AWP in late March!

At the AWP Conference 2019 in Portland, Oregon, I’ll be hosting an on-site reading entitled “The Future Is Disabled: A Reading of Disabled Writers on What’s Next.” The purpose of this reading is to look forward to a time where disabled and/or d/Deaf writers can have a stronger say in how we are represented in the literature of the future, and that is to start with our work. I’ve asked my writers to share their work from books that’s recently published (or soon to be).

The other AWP event that I will be participating is entitled “A Reading and Conversation with Erica Jong, Lidia Yuknavitch, and Raymond Luczak.” We will discuss the question of where the story is going in the 21st century: are we living and writing a whole new narrative these days? It should be a fun and lively discussion. On Thursday night, the Disability Lit Consortium will be hosting a big off-site reading featuring eight disabled and/or d/Deaf writers. At these three events I plan to read excerpts from Flannelwood, Assembly Required: Notes from a Deaf Gay Life (Updated), The Last Deaf Club in America, and A Babble of Objects: Poems. All events will be ASL-interpreted.

In our emails, I was curious about Deaf Literature in the current literary environment. I asked Raymond, “How do you feel about deaf literature in the literary world? What is the status of it and what would you like to see differently?”

I’m not sure which deaf literature you refer to … is it the lowercase “d,” in which deaf people choose not to use Sign to communicate but to speak and lipread, or the uppercase “Deaf,” in which Deaf people choose to use Sign as their primary mode of communication?

While I was raised to lipread and speak, I consider myself culturally Deaf. I haven’t paid much attention to what’s been happening on the “deaf” forefront in today’s publishing, but I do know that “Deaf” literature is very much ignored. In the larger world, Deaf people are seen as part of the disability community, so when I say that disability literature isn’t as chic as the work written by able-bodied hearing writers of color, it’s true.

There have been some efforts here and there among some literary mainstream journals to be more inclusive in this regard, but most publishers and agents want inspiration porn when it comes to books about disability. I don’t do inspiration porn, and no disabled writer worth her salt would want that either. But I believe our time will come, and for a while (I can only hope!), work by disabled and/or d/Deaf writers will be in vogue and taken seriously and elevated to the level of seriousness with which work by writers of color are. (Of course, writers of color aren’t taken as seriously as those who’ve grown up with white privilege, but my point is, where are the disabled writers when our national literary dialogue has been focusing lately on diversity and inclusiveness? That.)

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Raymond Luczak is the author and editor of 22 books. Titles forthcoming in 2019 include Flannelwood (Red Hen Press) and Lovejets: Queer Male Poets on 200 Years of Walt Whitman (Squares & Rebels). His latest title is the tenth-anniversary (updated) edition of Assembly Required: Notes from a Deaf Gay Life (Handtype Press). His debut novel Men with Their Hands (Queer Mojo) won first place in the Project: QueerLit Contest 2006. ImaginASL will present a new production of his play Love in My Veins in Denver, Colorado this June. He is currently the Fiction Editor for A&U Magazine. You can find out more about what submissions he’s looking for here. A ten-time Pushcart Prize nominee, he lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and online at raymondluczak.com. You can check out his Youtube Channel here.