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What is ASL literature, anyway?

 Digital Work
Identifier: ds_0101_whatisasl_cap_01.mp4


  • Creation: 1991



Dr. Barbara Kannapel moderates a lively panel discussion of the definition of literature. Different viewpoints are offered-for example, Bonnie suggests a framework of two strands of literature-Deaf Literature (written format) and Sign Language Literature with subcategories within each. Gil Eastman describes two different types of theatre or drama such as Theatre of the Deaf/Theatre for the Deaf, which differ in performer composition and audience. Clayton Valli believes this construct doesn't work for poetry, as it plays with language, and prefers the term ASL poetry; not poetry of/for the Deaf. Lynn Jacobowitz describes her experience writing plays and would like to create Deaf-centered ASL plays that reflects the Deaf experience. She will be videotaping kindergarten Deaf children signing stories to expose them to ASL literature. Sam Supalla explains that Deaf literature and ASL literature are two separate bodies of work and are taught as separate classes. The problem with the term Deaf literature is it doesn't give equal weight to Sign Language literature and is missing that part. There is some discussion of Black Literature, African American Studies, Women's Studies, Native American Studies and whether these constructs fit the Deaf community's definition. Valli suggests looking into these programs to see if their rubrics could be adapted. Bernard Bragg then suggests using a big 'D' Deaf Literature and Sign Language Studies. He agrees with Bonnie that focusing on ASL literature is too limiting--doesn't take into account Deaf culture, history, beliefs, etc. Sam suggests the categories Deaf Studies and Sign Language Studies with subcategories of literature under each. At the end, all agreed more discussion on these concepts is needed to further clarify the distinctions of literature.


320.83 Megabytes (mp4)


Sign Languages


General Note

This material was digitized as part of a CLIR Hidden Collections grant: "Sculptures in the Air: An Accessible Online Video Repository of the American Sign Language (ASL) Poetry and Literature Collections at the RIT/NTID Deaf Studies Archive (RIT/NTID DSA) in Rochester, NY." Original VHS recordings were transferred to mp4 format, captioned, and voiced, by the National Technical Institute for the Deaf Production Services department.

Repository Details

Part of the RIT Archives Repository

Rochester NY 14623 USA