Sarah Katz is the author of Country of Glass (Gallaudet University Press, May 2022). She holds an MFA in creative writing from American University. Her poems appear in Bear Review, District Lit, Hole in the Head Review, Redivider, RHINO, Right Hand Pointing, Rogue Agent, the So to Speak blog, The Shallow Ends, and Wordgathering, among others. Her essays and articles have appeared in The Atlantic, Business Insider, The Guardian, OZY, The Nation, The New York Times, The Rumpus, Scientific American, Slate, The Washington Post, and other publications. Sarah is Poetry Editor of The Deaf Poets Society, an online journal that features work by writers and artists with disabilities.
I had the opportunity to interview Sarah, which you can read below.
First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT! Could you tell us a bit about yourself?
I’m a writer living in Northern Virginia. I write creative nonfiction, journalism, and poetry. I mostly cover disability rights issues, and I’ve written for publications like The New York Times, The Rumpus, The Washington Post, and others.
I’m also deaf. I have a cochlear implant in my left ear and a hearing aid in my right ear. In addition to writing, I enjoy reading poetry and memoir, walking around my neighborhood, and watching TV shows like “The Americans” and “Better Call Saul” with my husband Jonathan.
How would you describe your book, Country of Glass? What was the inspiration for this project?
Country of Glass deals with a variety of subject matter, including deaf identity, illness, injury, war, and alienation, among others. More specifically, it’s an exploration of the precariousness of everyday life. It wasn’t a book I set out to write—I was just writing poems on themes that interest me, and it turned out that there was an overarching theme to them.
When did you know you were first interested in writing, and what drew you specifically to poetry?
I first fell in love with poetry when I was around five years old. I was exposed to a lot of poetry in speech therapy, and I began writing poetry when I was around eight or nine years old. At that age, I knew I was going to be a writer. I was slipping poems under my English teacher’s door every morning before school began.
At the time, I was reading a lot of children’s poetry. Shel Silverstein and Jack Prelutsky wrote humorous verse full of rhythm and rhyme. I was probably drawn to the musicality and imagery of their work.
How would you describe your writing process? What are some of your favorite/ most difficult parts of the creative process for you?
When it comes to poetry, I would describe my writing process as sporadic. It’s probably not a great strategy, but I only write when inspired. Lately, I haven’t been very engaged with my poetic side, and I probably won’t be for a long time. But I know that at some point I’ll return to it.
Being a writer of multiple genres works for me. When I’m not inspired by poetry, I’m writing nonfiction or journalism.
My favorite part of the creative process is when I’ve found the subject matter that I want to write about, I’ve come up with an outline, and I’m just about to begin. That moment feels pregnant with possibility.
The most difficult part of the creative process is definitely feeling uninspired. There are stretches of time when I’m not writing, and it feels like failure. But I have tried to treat these stretches as fallow seasons.
At any point during your life have you found media (i.e. books, film/television, etc.) in which you could see yourself reflected or relating to in terms of personal representation?
In 2019, I watched This Close, a TV show featuring actors Shoshannah Stern and Josh Feldman, which has come closest to resembling my life experience as a deaf woman. Like I do, Kate, a public relations professional (played by Shoshannah) speaks verbally in addition to signing. She also has a hearing partner, like me. She struggles in hearing situations, and he struggles in deaf situations. It’s the only show that I’ve watched that shows the diversity of the deaf experience.
As someone who is part of the d/Deaf/HOH community, disability seems to be strong element of your work. Had you always intended to cover this part of your identity within your writing, or was it simply a happy accident?
I began writing about deafness and disability because it’s what I know, and because it’s not written about enough. There are only a handful of people writing about disability.
What’s something about deafness you might want someone to take away from this interview?
When you’re deaf, you often mishear or misunderstand, which leads to interesting insights that hearing people don’t have. That insight is where all good writing begins.
What advice would you give for other writers/poets?
Lean into your obsessions. Try to find different entry points into them and write about them as much as possible.
Are there any projects you are currently working on and at liberty to speak about?
I’m currently working on a memoir-in-essays on life with deafness. It’s about the different aspects—learning as a deaf person, coping with abuse, mental illness, etc. I expect to be working on it for a long while.
Finally, are there any books, particularly poetry books or books showing disability/Deaf rep, you would recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?
I recommend True Biz, a novel by Sara Novic, which wonderfully portrays the diversity of the D/deaf experience, and Being Seen: One Deafblind Woman’s Fight to End Ableism, a memoir by Elsa Sjunneson that also explores the representation of disability in books and movies. I also recently enjoyed A Face for Picasso: Coming of Age with Crouzon Syndrome by Ariel Henley and Sitting Pretty: The View from My Ordinary Resilient Disabled Body by Rebekah Taussig, and I’m looking forward to John Lee Clark’s poetry collection, How to Communicate. And of course, Ilya Kaminsky’s poetry collection Deaf Republic is a huge gift.