Nothing Without Us is an own-voices, multi-genre collection of short stories where the protagonists identify as disabled, Deaf, neurodiverse, Spoonie, and/or manage mental illness.
Co-editor Talia Johnson interviews Myriad Augustine, author of The Bellwoods Golem, which will appear in the Nothing Without Us anthology this fall.
Tell us a bit about yourself as an author. Do you have any published works, What sort of stories do you gravitate to as a writer?
I have been a writer for almost as long as I’ve known how to write, although The Bellwoods Golem will be my first published piece of fiction — somewhere in my archives is a dot-matrix printout from the early 90s of my first story, about a dragon dissatisfied with his domestic life. Growing up at the intersection of several marginalizations, I have always found “speculative” fiction to resonate with me more strongly than more “conventional” genres because of the overwhelming lack of diversity in what are considered to be classic pieces of literature. Although science fiction and fantasy have their share of gatekeepers, they provided an easy way to transport myself out of the casual racism and classism that othered me in my daily life.
What was it about the Nothing Without Us anthology that made you want to submit to it?
I am a fierce believer in “nothing about us without us” in the scope of my politics, whether that’s tackling issues of race or disability or any other category of identity. Seeing the phrase heading a call for submissions immediately piqued my interest, enough that it actually ended a fairly long dry spell for my own personal writing. As I’ve been dealing with the effects of my chronic health issues, I’ve felt unable to summon up the necessary creative energy, and once enough time had passed it seemed impossible to start back up again. Seeing an anthology about disability by folks with disabilities seemed like the perfect opportunity to start writing again without the fear of my health woes somehow bleeding through and “ruining” the story.
What inspired you to write The Bellwoods Golem?
As someone who is Jewish by descent and by religious observance, from a family that’s big on storytelling and community care (and also just big), I am constantly examining and re-examining how old ways can speak to new needs. My mother speaks about our ancestry and our hardships with a matter-of-fact blurring of the supernatural and pragmatic in a way that’s usually lacking from North American stories, but quite common throughout the Caribbean. This kind of magical realism always intrigued me, our family history interwoven with ghosts and other mysteries, and I conceived of The Bellwoods Golem as a way to link that to the lore I’ve been taught by my rabbi and my own nerdy interest in history.
The Golem is a figure from Jewish folklore that is, in the tradition, a protector, at the same time in various pop-culture contexts the golems are used for evil. How do you see The Bellwoods Golem in this context?
One of the things that has always fascinated me about the original story of the Golem of Prague, and its many reflections in pop culture, is the way in which the golem itself is morally neutral. It is a tool, albeit a strange and supernaturally powerful one, and I was curious about what that would look like through a disabled lens. It is a hallmark of spoonie culture to be endlessly inventive in repurposing objects and technologies to create accessibility hacks, but that is as rarely seen in fiction as disabled characters themselves. The original golem was summoned to tirelessly defend the needy with its strength, and able-bodied writers since then have dwelt only on strength, and not on the possibilities of what ‘tireless’ might mean. In a way, I wanted to invert the traditional golem’s purpose – rather than stand between the community and external existential threats, what if it could be made to reconnect the isolated and neglected to their community?
One aspect of the story that Hadas needs help with basic daily living and help for more capacity, is this something you see a lot in Disability community, the need for help with little things to increase capacity?
While I have had invisible disabilities for most of my life, in the last few years I have been grappling with more severe issues relating to my mobility and pain levels, including the reliance on a mobility device outside of the house. Getting used to using a cane is its own long and frustrating story, but it is navigating the mundane daily tasks most people take for granted —making breakfast, getting dressed, etc. — that directly inspired The Bellwoods Golem. For quite a while I felt ashamed of my struggle to complete these kinds of “basic” maintenance chores, even though I had always struggled with these things to a greater or lesser extent. As my capacity diminished, it felt acutely unfair to have to spend my ‘spoons’ on something no one else could see that I’d done, and to have days go by where the most I could accomplish was to be conscious and adequately feed myself. Only repeated conversations with other “spoonies” revealed how pervasive an obstacle this is, and how many of us wish there was some magic spell or robot helper to do the boring everyday stuff so that we can get to “real life.”
What do you feel is missing in disability fiction, and mainstream stories about disability?
Diversity is always lacking in fiction, and even in anthologies or publications that center a certain identity (like folks with disabilities) there exists a danger that important perspectives will get lost. The “mainstream” of centering cisgender, heterosexual, white, etc. voices means that even when we erase one of those clichéd labels we need to disrupt the others as well. I deliberately made two of the three characters in The Bellwoods Golem use “they” pronouns because non-binary protagonists are extremely scarce in fiction, despite growing numbers in real-life, and I wanted that to be an element of the story even though gender is unrelated to the main plot. For those of us who sit at the messy intersection of multiple identities, we need to be able to see ourselves in stories without visibility being the only point of the story. In disability fiction, this means there needs to be an active push back against the assumption that disability is the only non-mainstream trait of our characters, while at the same time not writing in other identities just to fulfill a quota. In short, if most stories are about someone who could be you, make space for others to write about someone who could be them.
We’re so glad to have you as part of Nothing Without Us! Where can people follow you and learn more about your writing and other work?
Currently the best place to access my writing online is through my Patreon, https://www.patreon.com/myriadworks, on which I publish various essays and snippets of fiction. The bulk of my non-fiction writing is available through my zines, where I write about a great many topics but ultimately orbit around disaster and survival for marginalized people – these are available through The Wheelhouse, an organization I founded in 2012 which also serves as an art ‘distro’ (distributor), which you can find more info about at the-wheelhouse.org on Instagram.
Nothing Without Us
Editors: Cait Gordon and Talia C. Johnson
With stories by: Myriad Augustine, Carolyn Charron, Joanna Marsh, Elliott Dunstan, Jennifer Lee Rossman, Raymond Luczak, Nicole Zelnicker, Dorothy Ellen Palmer, Jamieson Wolf, J. Ivanel Johnson, Tom Johnson, Tonya Liburd, Shannon Barnsley, Madonna Skaff, Maverick Smith, George Zancola, Diane Koerner, Laurie Stewart, Tasha Fierce, Nathan Caro Frechette, Emily Gillespie, Derek Newman-Stille