Eli Clare (above left) arrived at the booth with his recording partner, Aimi Hamraie (above right), an Emory graduate student who uses Eli’s books as teaching tools in her classes. Eli’s books, The Marrow’s Telling: Words in Motion, and Exile and Pride: Disability, Queerness and Liberation, look at the body, queerness, disability, race, gender and sexuality in ways not explored before.
Barely 15 minutes into the conversation, Aimi read a quote from Eli’s book, Exile and Pride, “Our bodies are not merely blank slates upon which the powers that be write their lessons. We cannot ignore the body itself, the sensory, mostly non-verbal, experience of our hearts and lungs, muscles and tendons, telling us and the world who we are.” Using this quote as the backdrop, Aimi asked Eli what his earliest memory of his body was, and what his sensory experience of the world had told him about who he is.
Eli responded, “My earliest memory of my body is a glimmer I have….of a hospital.” He went on to tell when and where he was born and that he was born two months premature. He talked about the “birth trauma” that occurred as he was being born and the cerebral palsy that resulted from that trauma. He recounted not being able to walk until he was two and a half years old and how he, at that age, still had no verbal skills. He then shared, “at that point, my parents were desperate not to have a disabled kid.” Finally, he talked about his parents taking him to the state hospital in Salem, OR, for a first round of diagnostic testing. That testing, he said, “resulted in the diagnosis of mental retardation.” So, he said, “to get back to your question, my first bodily memory, the flash I have of being on a really high table in an exam room surrounded by doctors being completely terrified that I was going to fall off that table. Completely convinced that I was just going to tumble to the floor….completely, bodily out of control”
Throughout the conversation, and with the help of Aimi’s skillful questioning, Eli brought seemingly hard-to-grasp and academic subject matter out of the mental stratosphere and into the physical world by relating his personal story and experiences with race, class, gender, queerness, body image and disability.
Today, Eli is a writer, speaker/teacher, activist and poet living in Hinesburg, Vermont. He was visiting Atlanta to speak at a variety of events hosted by various Emory University departments. For more information about Eli Clare, please visit his website.
Part of Eli’s story was edited by WABE and aired during Morning Edition and City Cafe on Tuesday, April 19, 2011. Listen to that broadcast a www.wabe.org/storycorps