For this week’s Match Volume, Nataly Joseph sat down with Alice Wong, a disabled activist, writer, editor, and the founder of the Disability Visibility Project, which is a project collecting oral histories of people with disabilities in the US. Wong also served as a presidential appointee to the National Council on Disability. In this episode, Wong and Nataly had a conversation about Wong’s upcoming new book, Year of the Tiger. The book is a groundbreaking memoir in essays showing Wong’s journey to finding and cultivating community and the continued fight for disability justice. Check out her debut memoir here.
Jeffrey: Welcome back to match volume. USC Annenberg’s premier interview-based podcast produced by student journalists.
Nataly: I’m your host Nataly!
Jeffrey: And I’m your co-host, Jeffrey.
Nataly: Jeffrey, What is your experience like with literature by disabled people?
Jeffrey: Admittedly, very, very limited. I think the most exposure I’ve gotten was probably reading about biography of Helen Keller and Stephen Hawking. And that was, that was the extent of it.
Nataly: Yeah. And that’s kind of a double-edged sword, right? Because on the one hand, it’s great that you were able to read about these figures that are super impressive, but on the other, there are so many voices in the disability community, so many diverse voices that have yet to kind of reach that same mainstream, which is really unfortunate because the stories that are happening what just within this community alone are really impactful and kind of amazing, which kind of leads me to this week’s interview that I’m super, super excited about. I had the absolute privilege to sit down with Alice Wong, a disability activist, writer, editor and consultant. Alice is also the founder and director of the disability visibility project, which is an online community dedicated to creating, sharing and amplifying disability, media, and culture.
Jeffrey: Alice has an upcoming new book, which is called year of the tiger. The book is a memoir about Alice’s journey to finding and cultivating community and the continued fight for disability justice.
Nataly: Alice, for those of you who are not familiar with her, is one of the most impressive people I’ve had the privilege to interview. She not only has she amplified these voices but she’s also been able to bring all of these great writers together into her one anthology, Disability Visibility. And well that is awesome. And I really suggest people read it. It was more her kind of gathering these voices and, and curating them, which she’s fantastic at. She has like a gift, but what I’m so excited about with this new book is that it’s her own voice and it’s her own stories. And she has such incredible journey on from her way to like just being a child, to being this great curator that I think more people need to read. And so having this book being released so soon, I believe in September is just so exciting to me.
Jeffrey: Yeah, absolutely. And not to mention she was a presidential appointee on the national council of disability and was the first person I just learned this morning to visit the white house and the president by robot presence. So it’s incredible that she’s made all the way up there to the top of the public sphere. And she still came and talked to us.
Nataly: I know, seriously, I think about that all the time. And I’m super excited for you guys to hear this.
Together: Here’s Alice Wong.
Wong: Yeah, buddy, this is Alice Wong. I’m a writer an editor and activist.
Nataly: Amazing. And then, so you’re a part of the Disability Visibility Project. Could you talk a little bit about the work that you do there?
Wong: Yeah. I found these Disability Visibility Projects at 2014. It really just started as an oral history project. You know, I wanted a way to encourage disabled people to tell their own stories. So we were a community partner with an organization called StoryCorp, which is a national oral history nonprofit. So we retorted over 100 oral histories in the last three years since it started. And you know pretty much it grew to other forms of media, other forms, you know, of storytelling. And this is an organic thing. I just started a podcast, which ended last year, which was a lot of fun and I just started publishing works by disabled people on my websites. The DVP is basically my baby, which I guess is a one person operation, but here we are now eight years later with the anthology additive bars (4:05). It’s just pretty exciting for our job.
Nataly: Yeah, it’s just been exciting to see even the past couple of years, like the projects that you’ve come out with and all the stories that you’ve been able to tell.And you usually tell other people’s stories, which is really interesting, but now you have your own book coming out Year of the Tiger. And so could you talk a little bit about that?
Wong: I think it’s been a lot for everyone, the last two-plus years of the pandemic, you know, especially for high-risk people. You know, I continue to be scared, to not feel safe. You know, I only go out when I absolutely have to. I don’t go out to large in-person events. It’s still very thankful and I’m very disturbed by the way everybody is just, you know, assuming that everything’s ok, and “oh, if I get COVID it’s just a mild case,” which is not the case for a lot of people, but somehow those are considered acceptable losses, right? So a lot of these things have weighed on me and showed me how much, a lot about my own mortality. It’s given me a ot of pause to reflect on just my own life, what I want to do, what I have done, but also looking ahead, what do I want to do with my time. So after the anthology that came out in the middle of the pandemic, the summer of 2020, I thought alot about, well, what could be my follow-up? And, for the most part, a lot of my work has been centering other people. I love interviewing people, I love collaborating, the conversation with others to make sure that all kinds of folks get the spotlight. You know, and then I thought what would be a really fun follow-up to the anthology could be, you know, something about me, and you know, what story do I want to tell? And I thought a lot about, putting together the book proposal, just to look back at what I’ve done and when I looked at just the published work I was just like, wow, I’ve actually done a lot and I’ve seek all these kinds of connections throughout time, and that to me was fascinating. And I thought, this is a great kind of moment to really just center myself, celebrate myself. And when I wrote this proposal, most books take about two years, so I thought 2022, that’s what I turn for 48, and that’s the year of the zodiac of my year, the year of the tiger, and I’m like, ok, this is meant to be. I was like, I’m just gonna go for it, put that as a title. It really felt like everything was aligned and I really manifested it. I was like, this is the title of the book, this is when the book will come out, this will be what the book will be about, it’s my year, and that to me has been terribly exciting. Just, what a privilege to be alive at this year, at this time, just to be able to share this story with folks.
Nataly: That’s so wild. Whenever I think about how that lined up, like that’s almost perfect. You could say, or like as close to perfect as we can get. And as someone who kind of like usually assembles people’s stories and tells their stories, was it difficult at all to kind of put together your own book?
Wong: Yeah, it definitely, it was definitely uncomfortable, right? You have to trust yourself, you’ve got to do a lot of self-editing, which I think is a thing that people do anyway when they talk about themselves. I think if we’re constantly editing and revising our histories and revising our narratives, whether we admit it it or not. So there were a lot of decisions about what I wanted to share and what I did not want to share. There were a lot of things that I personally did not include, and I think that to me is the greatest flex, right, because I mean that is the power of being in total control of your narrative. And of course this is my narrative, his is a particular story that I wanted to tell, and I want to tell. And I was attentional about those decisions. I was intentional about really what it is to be fosters as well. So I wanted to not feel so overburdened by the expectations which I take, you know, start days, creativity. Just as usual eyesight, right? The usual dayside at the public of just, artists of vulnerable, you know, there’s a lot of tradition just like, but I try to really set that aside and. The guiding principles for me was just, does it please be, is this to be as fluid as possible?Just, you know, assist you to be a good time. It turns out the process, you know, if there’s too much efforts a year and a half, maybe two years to put it together, but. It’s not just about turning it, that bit district, which I did it last fall.I’m still working on it. There’s still a lot of ETS, a lot of good history pages unlocked those into a book, you know, with the fighter and an entire team. So this is a collective effort. And I think people don’t realize that. you know, a draft and everything you have to do, but isn’t a lot of other have said about yet to see it. You know, editing is just a bit about what fever has to be. I feel very proud of it. I think people really try. I think that, yeah, I did a bad habit, like the response, you know, I don’t really want to be too worried about sales or publicity and all that stuff because you know, in the end I have to believe that the book will reach people. If it, it resonates with some people, I think in the end having it out there is more than enough and I think writers or artists, you just have to have faith that this is a bit of a journey, you know, is it a fighter, its own journey out there? That’s really out of your control. I used to have, I don’t work at the data, but most your biggest out there is a troll. That’s also, they too, that a lot of the uncertainty, but I did a surprise today and, you know, I guess I’m not doing it for anybody’s approval. So I think that that is that’s a doorway for myself that I’m not too worried about that.
Nataly: Yeah. I really aspire to get to that point in my work where it’s like, if this pleases me, then that’s good enough because I’m like nowhere near there. Um, I feel like a lot of people, my age, aren’t really there at all, and I guarantee you will have one sale at least, and it will be me, but don’t worry about that. Um, and you talked about like having kind of fun in that process. So what were some of like the best parts of putting this book together and as you still put it together?
Wong: I did that that way, but I just don’t have any fucks left you know, just like, you know, whatever I do feel like that’s time to get there still. It’s still hard, right? Like, of course, you know, Friday work. It was very particular others. It’s so small.(14:13) And I think it’s very drastic for it. I’ve tried and I feel good about where I’m at. That joke drove just like such. I think it’s not just an age thing, even though I think I’ve accumulated a lot of mistakes. A lot of things I’ve learned from but just the maturity of realizing that my time is precious, and I feel like everybody’s time is precious. And if it starts with valuing ourselves, that’s tough. That’s the hardest part. Once you figure out how to find yourself, I really do think that other pieces for full of I. No matter what your structures are like want to make all your dreams come true, like just, you know, try to have that kind of. You know, I don’t want yet. I think that’s it. That’s, it that’s a process too. You know, I don’t have all the answers. I thought I don’t ever want to be somebody who says right they’ve made it. I think you’ve got to figure it out, but yes, I will be the first one to tell you a hot desk. I wrote about that. I’m just like, what does it need to do the hardest as Siri? So it really did a lot of judge of my personality on a phone of friends, but there was this sublease I wrote there in a book. This is not serious, you know, and I think that’s nice to have different tones, different styles. I think just do it as playful as possible. You know, and I try to relate to how to are supposed to look like, you know, really wanted to do it creative ways. So it’s not going to be just all attempts. There are photos, there’s professional Hartford. There are just a lot of fun days that I would find entertaining did a book and I hope other people find entertaining. It also, was just a great sort of creative process for myself for what it is a thing ever done before I wanted to put faith together. it feels like a job. It’s of sorts where I get used to here. They said that, you know, just really I referred with the form. So I did that today was very spare, but play for side, I believe in joy. I found a lot of freedom. Do you have it though? I think the idea of a read bar sounds very restrictive, but I really didn’t really want to just sit for its out.
Nataly: Yeah. And it sounds like you have just by having fun, honestly, writing it and not being super like critical of your own story and being super honest, which is, you know, honestly like hard to come by with a lot of memoirs. Like a lot of them, I feel like glorifying people’s lives, glorifying experiences because they want that to look a certain way. But I appreciate when authors are actually honest about like what their life looks like and the struggles, because it makes for a better book. And so I’m really glad that, that you got to go through that experience and kind of like develop that of voice.
Wong: Yeah. I’m not concerned about my anger or how people perceive me because I just want to keep it real, just keep it real. I think keeping it real and keeping it fun is really the vibe I’m going for. And a lot of it was very nostalgic, like I write about junior high and when I was a kid. Just like they said, i want to brief for, you know what I mean, a lot of people should be told to do, I did this all the Friday, but they don’t know all the aspects of it.That’s also a wonderful opportunity to show, like it’s barely a different site, you know, we’re just still doing it.
Nataly: Absolutely. And I think another important aspect that you already kind of hinted on was the representation in just literature of the disabled community and how there isn’t much, or at least much that is popular amongst people. And so why for you is your book so important contributing to that representation and in books?
Wong: Yeah, definitely hope so. Yeah, I think, yeah, it’s really weird. Conversations about diversity. You know, it’s just like, it’s just lip service and a lot of ways, every industry, whether it’s education, publishing, entertainment, people love to talk to them. They were afraid to show diversity as yet, or they ready to see power, to see decision making? No, they’re not, right. So, a lot of this work is systemic, and you know, maybe this book is one small part of this you know, push toward, I guess, pushes back against the gatekeepers and, to your point, why don’t we teach disability history? Why they aren’t there? You don’t hear for about disabled people at the bars of books, but like, what about this? So many people today, just everyday people that, you know, there’s certainly exceptional people or geniuses, or just. Uh, did I did that to be as for my interests slide, but just the beauty of the everyday life by story is this book part of that. And, uh, I really do hope that it’s part of a collective push. Did the bid for balls. It also had to bid for charitability by there’s usage with basic books, right. There were stories are, do audiences. Do the audiences want, you know, I want to challenge all of that. You to just purchase this part of it, that, uh, you know, by day, if they. Uh, let me read it. That’s when I’m going to really try flexing some muscle, but I did have a, B&G to, to really. I have to say its influence. don’t like this published or what gets, how these are edited. How’s these are. Because it developed earlier in a team, an entire team. Yeah, for a lot of writers or trailer or disabled people, she got stitches merging with majority people that are dollars yourself, but that’s only spits the status, right. That has always been the tease for the most parts, but at downstate where it prints it membership by people of color. That’s really overdue every day, thousands of times for that. So what is this? More or less for everyone.
Nataly: Yeah. And I think even like what you said about the pandemic, or it was like, oh, people don’t care about the pandemic still going on because they’re not considering disabled people or people that are especially at risk. And it’s almost like a chicken and the egg thing of like, do you not care because you haven’t like seen these stories told, so you don’t know what’s going on or do you not see what’s going on because you don’t care.And so it’s very interesting to see. The push that’s kind of starting to happen for more diversity in literature, like actual diversity, actual diversity in leadership. Um, and I definitely think you’re contributing to it, which is really super exciting. Um, and I guess just in general, like what do you hope the book leaves people with? Like what impact do you hope it would make.
Wong: I hope it delights people, I hope they laugh, I hope they feel the need to share it with others. I hope they learn a few things. I also hope it really mobilizes them, I want them to get angry about systemic ableism, systemic racism. I want them to like want to do something, you know I want to leave people questioning everything. That to me would be the biggest hope, to leave people thinking and reflecting and just wanting more, wanting to do more, I think that’s my hope.
Nataly: Yes. And that is a great hope to have. I also hope that it mobilizes people I even saw in like the blurb on your website that it said like, oh, it express your joy, but also your rage. And I think that’s also an important thing to see is that like, no, people are like actually angry. Like they are not, it’s not just like peaceful. They’re not asking nicely. Gone on long enough, like there is rage behind this. And I think that makes it just more powerful and more interesting. Also have a read. And so that makes me doubly excited about the book. Yes, absolutely. Oh, I’m so like every, the more we talked about, the more excited I get, which is just great. Yeah. And is there anything else that you’d like to say about the book or like what led up to this that I didn’t touch on?
Wong: Yeah, I think just about it. I think I’m just thankful for the eligibility to talk about it. I should have a lot more faith about my book and make orders to different websites for the latest. Yeah. So thank you so much for everything.
Nataly: Amazing. Thank you so much for speaking with me, for your time. It’s been amazing and I’m so excited for your book. I will, I will be the first in line for sure.
Wong: I hope you release your inner tiger, just let it all hang out. That’s the biggest thing.
Nataly: Well, thank you so much for your time.
Jeffrey: So I think I started off, uh, in the beginning, admittedly, not knowing too much about this, uh, incredible woman, but at the end, um, I really loved how you told Alice not to worry and that you feel at least have one sale, uh, when she publishes her book and I like, I’d like to throw my hat in the ring and say, she’ll at least have two.
Nataly: That is wonderful to hear because I love Alice and I love her work. And I just want to like spread her voice as far as I can, because she’s doing such amazing work. Not only has she curated these voices and spread other people’s ideas and thoughts and everything that, that into the sphere, but she’s also kind of broken her own glass ceiling in literature. I mean, like she said, there’s not a lot of disabled authors that get their books published at major publications because of that barrier to power that is often in place for. Other people as well, not just people with disabilities. And so to have her be able to publish this memoir and get her experience out there, I think also opens a door for other disabled authors to be able to tell their stories, because even if you just read her anthology that came out during the pandemic, it’s amazing. The writing is of the utmost quality and yet a lot of them don’t have their own books. And so I feel like Alice is kind of opening that door for more others.
Jeffrey: Yeah, and I really take inspiration from her outlook and her optimism of life. I think it’s very, I think it’s very easy for disabled people to have a lot more find a lot more rage than joy in life. Um, but, and as you mentioned, or like, or she mentioned that the book would be. You know, a combination like she would, her ultimate goal is for people to find, um, you know, some, some joy in the book. There, there is also a little bit of rage, but, um, you know, I, I, and she’s also said that she’s so. Like she knows who she is. Right. So she’s, she’s very sure of herself. And I just find that to be very inspirational.
Nataly: Yeah. That alone is an inspiration. Just knowing who you are enough to be like comfortable and confident in publishing that memoir the way you want it to be. Um, but also I think she’s kind of spotlighting how she said this, the diversity talk before this has just been kind of lip service. Um, especially when you’re saying like, oh, there’s joy, but there’s also rage. Like we haven’t really seen a diversity of even feeling when it comes to people that are usually not allowed or don’t have access to that power to publish. And so. Even that alone would give people more of an understanding of like the experience of, of disabled people. And that it’s not just, oh, I’m so sad or, oh, I’m so happy. I beat the odds. Like that’s just not the human experience at all. And so with her publishing this memoir, I feel like not only is it getting her experience out there and kind of broadening people’s perspectives, but hopefully it leads to a future of books like these, that people are able to read and fully understand people that aren’t like them that have been shoved out of the spotlight for so long.
Jeffrey: Absolutely. I look forward to seeing that future.
Nataly: Me,too. that’s all for this week’s episode tune in next Friday for more matched volume and be sure to follow us on Instagram at Annenberg media.
Jeffrey: This show is a production of Annenberg media and is produced by Shitong Zhang. See you next time.