Bio: Katie Booth teaches writing at the University of Pittsburgh. Her work has appeared in The Believer, Catapult, McSweeney’s, and Harper’s Magazine, and has been high- lighted on Longreads and Longform. Her piece “The Sign for This” was a notable essay in the 2016 edition of Best American Essays. She was raised in a mixed hearing and deaf family. This is her first book.
THE INVENTION OF MIRACLES: Language, Power, and Alexander Graham Bell’s Quest to End Deafness provides a new perspective on an American icon, revealing the true genesis of the telephone and its connection to another, far more disturbing legacy of Alexander Graham Bell’s: his efforts to suppress American Sign Language. The book offers an account of the deaf community’s fight to reclaim a once-forbidden language. Booth witnessed the damaging impact of Bell’s legacy on her own family, leading her to spend more than 15 years poring over Bell’s papers, Library of Congress archives, and the records of schools for the deaf across America. What she discovered overturned everything she thought she knew about language, power, deafness, and the telephone.
Judges’ citation: A complex and profoundly moving historical saga, THE INVENTION OF MIRACLES is an insightful portrayal of the extraordinary life of Alexander Graham Bell, as well as a retelling of his decades-long crusade to teach the deaf to speak with their lips and not their hands. Inventing the telephone was merely a first act to his true life’s work — bringing language to the deaf community that included his mother and his wife. Relying on Bell’s own papers and those of his contemporaries, as well as diving deeply into the archives of the deaf community, the author, Katie Booth, focuses on the cultural impact of Bell’s work with the deaf without shying away from the more controversial aspects of his mission—bypassing sign language, interpreting deaf genealogy, and flirting with the now discredited science of eugenics before distancing himself from its most radical ideas. Booth brackets Bell’s story with a passionate rendering of her own experiences and resentments as a hearing person with deaf relatives who she feels have been hurt by Bell’s advocacy. Superbly written and decidedly subjective, THE INVENTION OF MIRACLES provides a challenging portrait of an imperfect genius whose dedication to helping the deaf to live fully in mainstream society may have harmed some of the very people he cared about most.
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