When Rebecca Burke, MFA ’21, was younger, she knew there was something critical missing from the literary world. Being the only person she knew with vision impairment, Burke looked to books to find community among those who also identified as disabled, and was disheartened to find very little on library shelves. Now, years later, Rebecca Burke has compiled an anthology of thirty-three unapologetically disabled writers, whose works—of various genres including poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction—explore topics such as physical disability, mental illness, chronic illness, and neurodivergence. For the project, Rebecca Burke led a team of student and alumni editors including Lisa Desrochers-Short, Bareerah Y. Ghani, Natalie Plahuta, Emilie Knudsen, Hannah Dobrick, Brittney Burdick, and Lee Tury, many of whom also identified as disabled. An unforgettable series of work written by those often overlooked in the literary world, Stillhouse Press’s In Between Spaces, available November 2022, presents a riveting collection, appreciation, and elevation of disabled voices.
Rebecca Burke’s passion for writing and editing flourished at George Mason University, where she worked as fiction editor for George Mason University’s intersectional literary magazine So to Speak and received an M.F.A. in creative writing. Her ambitions and talents were fostered in the program, which later helped her embark on her dream collection: a literary anthology compiled entirely of disabled writers. Along with Kathleen Mathis, Burke’s high school creative writing teacher, Bill Miller—the former director of creative writing at George Mason—contributed largely to Burke’s love of the craft. “I reached out [him] and set up meetings that turned into an incredible mentor/mentee relationship,” Burke stated during a virtual, roundtable discussion of the upcoming release on Crowdcast. “He was kind enough to spend long hours in his office with me working through revision notes and talking through story ideas, and really made me feel like all the thoughts that spin around in my head all day—especially those thoughts on feminism, intersectionality, and equity in the literary community and the broader publishing landscape—were worth writing down and sharing, and I never would have pursued this without that encouragement, I don’t think I ever would have pursued writing, or editing for that matter, which is something I love more than writing and didn’t know I could, in the ways I have if it weren’t for Bill and Kathleen.”
Burke’s excitement about the project is earnestly shared by its contributors, many of whom expressed their thoughts on the book and disability during the event. Poet Kaleigh O’Keefe, who writes about their experience with endometritis, commented, “I think it’s really special to be in this publication. It’s exciting to be among others like you, although different in certain ways, especially as someone with an invisible disability that I wasn’t sure if I had and didn’t even know what it was for a very long time. It’s very special and validating and important, I feel, to be a part of this project. I hope that if I had read more from people who suffered like I have, maybe it would have helped me find my diagnosis earlier. I hope maybe this book can help somebody else do that, or at the very least, help them feel less alone.” Amanda Ganus, MFA’22, former Editor-in-Chief of So to Speak and a current adjunct in Mason’s English department—who served as the assistant and nonfiction editor of the project—also emphasized a sense of belonging that she hopes the anthology provides. “I definitely felt community,” she said during the discussion. “Community is the thing that I always come back to when I think of how important and how significant work on this book has been.”
As an editor who previously confronted a literary world sorely lacking in disability representation, Burke recognizes a recent, positive shift in media and publishing. “I’ve seen a trend in recent years towards a much more inclusive representation of various different kinds of disabilities and experiences across genres,” she stated, speaking on widely popular genres, such as YA, that are currently featuring an increased number of disabled characters. “I think things are changing.” She believes that disabled voices are for everyone, expanding on this idea in response to a virtual question on the anthology’s target audience. “I think people, especially people who don’t identity as disabled, may look at this and say ‘oh, this isn’t for me.’ But that’s definitely not true,” Burke argues. “I wanted this book to be a reflection, a collection, a celebration of what being disabled really means to each of our contributors and try to bring all of those experiences together to be a reflection and a starting point of other conversations to spawn. This is in no way shape or form intended to be the end-all-be-all, it is a sentence in a much larger conversation that is continuously ongoing. This book is meant to be read and accessed widely by anyone who is willing to interact with the content. And it really does read beautifully.”
With poetry from Latif Askia Ba, Becca Carson, Kara Dorris, Kimberly Jae, Duane L. Herrmann, C.M. Crockford, Laura Mulqueen, Zackary Medlin, Sarah Allen, Chisom Okafor, Colleen Abel, Elizabeth Meade, Zoe Luh, Jess Skyleson, Kaleigh O’Keefe, Natalie E. Illum, Rob Colgate, and Willy Conley; cross-genre work from Alton Melvar M. Dapanas and Jill Rachel Jacobs; fiction from Wendy Elizabeth Wallace, Cynthia Romanowski, Cristina Hartmann, Arria Deepwater, and Teresa Milbrodt; and nonfiction from Nathan Viktor Fawaz, Anesce Dremen, Ann Zuccardy, Vanessa R. Garza, Zan Bockes, Tessa Weber, Teresa Milbrodt, Lili Sarayrah, and Rhea Dhanbhoora, In Between Spaces is an urgent and compelling collection of disabled voices that celebrates community and intersectionality, recognizes the hardships of marginalization, and demands, proudly, to be heard.
Stillhouse Press is George Mason University’s teaching press, one of the few literary presses in the country designed to give students the keys to the publishing house, offering experiential education in the field of publishing to undergraduate and graduate students alike. In Between Spaces is their first anthology.
November 09, 2022