In this interview, Manahil Bandukwala talks to Amanda Leduc ahead of her appearance at Growing Room 2020. Read what Leduc has to say about “Disney-fying” fairy tales, writing non-fiction, and nurturing community.
Photo credit: Trevor Cole
To celebrate the upcoming Growing Room Festival 2020, we are chatting with a few festival authors to learn more about them and their work until March rolls around. Stay tuned for more conversations in this interview series. In the following interview, Room contributor and festival author, Manahil Bandukwala, chats with fellow festival author, Amanda Leduc!
Amanda Leduc is the Communications and Development Coordinator for the Festival of Literary Diversity (FOLD). Her non-fiction book, Disfigured: On Fairy Tales, Disability, and Making Space just released from Coach House Books. In this interview, Manahil Bandukwala talks to Leduc ahead of her appearance at Growing Room 2020. Read what Leduc has to say about “Disney-fying” fairy tales, writing non-fiction, and nurturing community.
This interview was conducted over email.
ROOM: Hi Amanda, I’m excited to talk to you ahead of your appearance at Growing Room in 2020. Congratulations on your upcoming book, Disfigured: On Fairy Tales, Disability, and Making Space. Fairy tales have such a strong hold in cultural memory, that they affect us in ways we sometimes don’t anticipate. For your writing, why fairy tales?
Amanda Leduc: I’ve always been a lover of fairy tales, both the traditional lesser-known versions of stories as well as their more modern, well-known Disney counterparts. Part of it—especially with the modern, “Disney-fied” versions—is the draw of romance. I’ve always been a huge romantic at heart, and the way that the fairy tales we know and love have often reached for happy ending through romance was definitely something that drew me through my youth and adolescence. I also loved the focus on magic—it was always so freeing to read about worlds that worked outside of the confines of the world that I knew.
ROOM: The fluidity of fairy tales is really interesting. They continuously change, straddling the line between societal norms and societal needs. In Disfigured, you connect fairy tales and disability. Can you share something interesting you found as you wrote this book?
AL: One of the things I was focused on in writing Disfigured was the aspect of disability representation—both in fairy tales, yes, but also in the media we consume through pop culture and other means. We’ve been so used to not really seeing much disability representation in media that I was surprised, quite frankly, to discover the ways in which disability is rampant in the fairy tale genre specifically.
The key here, of course, is that disability is rarely, if ever, portrayed positively in the fairy tale realm. It’s always painted as an impediment—either something that the protagonist has to shed or overcome through the course of the story, or as something that clearly marks a villain as other and sets them apart from their fellow story-dwellers.
“The key here, of course, is that disability is rarely, if ever, portrayed positively in the fairy tale realm. It’s always painted as an impediment—either something that the protagonist has to shed or overcome through the course of the story, or as something that clearly marks a villain as other and sets them apart from their fellow story-dwellers.”
ROOM: I had the pleasure of hearing you speak at a panel on challenging norms in personal nonfiction at the Wild Writers Literary Festival. You talked about letting go of shame as part of writing personal stories. Can you talk more about that?
AL: For me, shame has been an integral part of my writing since I started putting pen to paper. But I didn’t realize this for years. It was a shame that was initially bound up with religion—I was raised Catholic, and was a very spiritual person in my teens and early twenties, and there was a long period of time where I had difficulty reconciling the shame that I felt—around my body, around the idea of pleasure, around acknowledging aspects of queerness—with what I perceived faith to be and mean.
As I moved into my thirties and began to explore, more explicitly, what it means to have a different body in the world, I was able to understand for the first time that that shame was also connected to being disabled, and to the bullying that I experienced when I was young as a result of the way that I walked and moved through the world. As a result of that bullying I longed for community, to belong, which is part (but not all) of what drew me so strongly to faith and faith-based groups in my twenties. Recognizing that disability, at its heart, has always been at the root of this shame—and then, in turn, understanding how to break open that shame and use it to fortify my sense of myself as a writer—has been such a powerful journey.
ROOM: At that panel, you talked about the lines you’ve drawn for yourself when it comes to writing personal narratives. You don’t write about other people’s experiences in your narratives. How have these boundaries allowed your writing to flourish?
AL: The nonfiction writer Lynne Van Luven once talked about how as a writer she gave herself permission to write anything. But when it came time to publish, she would ask herself the question: is this going to hurt someone? And she would use the answer to that question as a guide for deciding whether or not something went out into the world for publication.
I try as much as I can to adhere to this principle in my own narratives as well. While I wouldn’t say I don’t *ever* include other people’s experiences in my work, it’s definitely true that there are certain people—family members, certain friends—who I’ve made the decision not to write about. I worry about hurting people, those closest to me especially. This is not to say that I have a whole bunch of hurtful things to say about anyone—I don’t!—but there’s always a risk in writing about those you know, even if it comes from a place of love. Whatever I write is inevitably filtered through my experience, and as a result, the perceptions of someone I know are also, as a result, filtered through my experience. So my experience of Person X, while perhaps true to my experience of them, is nonetheless not going to be entirely indicative of who they are, nor is it wholly encompassing of them as a person with wants and desires and dreams.
In order to avoid this kind of hurt, I’ve found that my best writing comes from looking critically and unabashedly at myself instead. By putting boundaries in place and refusing—for now—to write about those closest to me, I’ve given myself permission to look deeply at myself instead. To be as critical and sharp as I need to be, but also as endless and compassionate as I need to be as well. This has made my writing go deep in ways I wouldn’t have thought possible ten years ago. I am so grateful that the path has taken me here.
ROOM: You’re facilitating a workshop called “Different Worlds and Different Bodies: Writing Disabled Characters” at Growing Room 2020. How did the workshop go when you facilitated this workshop at Wild Writers?
AL: It went very well! There was a lot of dynamic discussion that came out of it, and some really wonderful questions that got everyone thinking, for which I am so grateful.
ROOM: More often than not, being a writer means being part of a community of writers. What does community mean to you?
AL: Community, for me, means being able to create spaces that are at once places of accountability and places of forgiveness. I want to create and nurture and built communities where people understand that they can fumble and make mistakes—but the price of that space is being open to when other people likewise make mistakes of their own, and ready to help them back up. Alicia Elliott talks about this as radical kindness—the ability to hold people accountable for their mistakes but also encourage them to grow and learn. It is extraordinarily difficult work, but I’m encouraged by people like Alicia who continue in spite of exactly how hard it is.
“Community, for me, means being able to create spaces that are at once places of accountability and places of forgiveness. I want to create and nurture and built communities where people understand that they can fumble and make mistakes—but the price of that space is being open to when other people likewise make mistakes of their own, and ready to help them back up.”
ROOM: Who are some writers you’ve been excited about lately?
AL: I’ve been so nurtured and encouraged by the work of writers like Dorothy Ellen Palmer and Adam Pottle—people who are changing the landscape of CanLit for disabled writers in particular. And emerging writers like Natasha Ramoutar and Sarah Kurchak are writing narratives that get me so excited.
You can join Amanda Leduc at the following Growing Room Literary & Arts Festival 2020 events on March 14 and 15: