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Disability advocate Eli Clare to speak on COVID-19

Disability justice advocate Eli Clare has been chosen as a Distinguished Visiting Collaborator in the Central New York Humanities Corridor, and he will be hosted for two virtual talks by the Cornell Society for the Humanities in partnership with the Syracuse University Humanities Center.

Eli Clare

“Eli Clare is a writer, an activist and a traveling poet and storyteller. His critical work on disability, queerness, and environmental justice has shaped discussions in the academy and beyond,” said event co-organizer Stacey Langwick, associate professor of anthropology in the College of Arts and Sciences. “His most recent book, ‘Brilliant Imperfection,’ shows how ideologies of cure privilege very particular human bodies and physical capacities, foreclosing room for more diverse identities and hampering work toward a more just world.”

“Clare’s visit is timely,” Langwick added. “We have all witnessed the way that COVID-19 has traced the fault lines of historical violence and fed on inequality. In the midst of the ongoing pandemic, his incisive sense of history and fierce commitment to justice are needed. We are so excited to be able to welcome Clare here virtually for two events that promise to draw out his broader arguments and speak to the issues of our moment.”

On Thursday, Oct. 28, Clare will give a virtual public lecture entitled, “Prevention, Treatment, Cure: Thinking About Survival, Disposability, and Profit Beyond the COVID-19 Vaccines,” hosted by Syracuse and open to the public. His talk will explore questions of access to medical technology, like vaccines, effective pharmaceutical treatments, and how that access is driven by profit.

On Friday, Oct. 29, at 11:30 a.m., Cornell will host a more intimate and intensive lunchtime workshop focused on Clare’s recent article, “Creating Categories.” Clare will discuss the power of categorization, using Library of Congress subject headings, diagnoses, binary gender designations, and the names of nation-states as examples. Responses to Clare’s work will be provided by Julia Chang, assistant professor of Romance studies (A&S) and Meika Loe, Colgate University, followed by a discussion with the audience. Attendance at this virtual event is limited to 30; registration is required.

Clare’s work draws on his personal experience with cerebral palsy. In an excerpt from his presentation, “Defective, Deficient, and Burdensome: Thinking About Bad Bodies,” he describes how individuals regularly approach him with intent to cure his disability. “Complete strangers offer me Christian prayers or crystals and vitamins, always with the same intent — to touch me, fix me, mend my cerebral palsy, if only I will comply. They cry over me, wrap their arms around my shoulders, kiss my cheek. Even now, after five decades of these kinds of interactions, I still don’t know how to rebuff their pity, how to tell them the simple truth that I’m not broken.”

Langwick said that Clare’s visit will contribute to the important conversation among faculty and students who are interested in interdisciplinary and cross-college collaborations around disability studies.

Clare received an M.F.A. in creative writing from Goddard College in Vermont. In addition to his most recent, award-winning book, "Brilliant Imperfection: Grappling with Cure," he has authored the book of essays "Exile and Pride: Disability, Queerness, and Liberation," as well as a collection of poetry, "The Marrow's Telling: Words in Motion." As a traveling storyteller and educator, he has made presentations at over 100 conferences, community events and colleges across the United States and Canada. Clare serves on the Community Advisory Board for the Disability Project at the Transgender Law Center, is a Disability Futures Fellow (funded by the Ford Foundation and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation) and co-organized the first ever Queerness and Disability Conference.

The CNY Humanities Corridor working group organizing these events, Health Humanities: Medicine, Disease, Disability, and Culture, is an interdisciplinary cohort of scholars who explore health and culture through the lens of humanities and social science disciplines. Formed in 2019, the group’s co-organizers are Langwick and Syracuse University professors Lois Agnew and Andrew London.

These activities and collaborations are made possible by the CNY Humanities Corridor, an 11-institution scholarly consortium supported by an award from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Through its working group structure and seed funding for collaborative activities, the Corridor helps connect faculty, academic staff, students and members of the wider community across disciplinary, geographic and institutional boundaries.

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