REVIEW: Festival Laureate Raymond Antrobus

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12 October

St Chad’s College

Hannah Hodgson

In the gorgeous surroundings of St. Chads chapel, Raymond Antrobus addressed the audience. He told us that his work centres around his experiences of sound, deafness and his upbringing. I’m also deaf and have found Antrobus’ work so helpful when navigating the subject of deafness and deaf experience in my own work. He offers a real benchmark when it comes to talking about difference.

It’s hard to describe the experience of deafness to someone with ‘normal’ hearing. It isn’t what you would expect, and certainly not what is portrayed in ridiculous YouTube challenges or ‘disability awareness’ training. Deafness is its own culture – there is a whole language involved, and skill required to learn this. Antrobus mentioned an official government statistic that recently said 70% of profoundly deaf children leave school illiterate. This is because the education system doesn’t recognise sign language as literacy, which is preposterous.

Antrobus has been in schools and prisons talking about his work and helping many young writers get a start in the industry. He mentioned one particular school visit where a boy asked him “How do you feel about being deaf?”. Antrobus answered, then reflected the question back to the boy asking. The boy answered that he felt “useless.” This is another reason Antrobus’ writing is so essential. Society tells us and our deafness that we are useless, and often assumes that we have little to give. In his work Antrobus subverts this expectation – he changes hearts and minds and shows our potential. Our differences give us things: we have not ‘lost’ our hearing, we have gone deaf and gained a culture along with skills which allow us to navigate the world differently – but not in a ‘worse’ way.

This work was produced by participants on our Durham Book Festival Reviewers in Residence programme, a cultural journalism programme run by New Writing North Young Writers. Reviewers in Residence gives aspiring journalists aged 15-23 the chance to review books, attend events and interview authors at Durham Book Festival. For more information about New Writing North Young Writers visit the New Writing North website.

Photo copyright: Marion Botella