Cece Bell

Acceptance Speech

Transcript of the speach

Hi there, I'm Cece Bell. You lovely folks out there selected my book, El Deafo, as the winner of the Judy Lopez Memorial Award for Children's Literature, an award for which I am deeply thankful.

So this book came out of a very selfish place in my heart, in that I wrote the book purely for me. What happened was, maybe about seven years ago or so, I was standing in line at the grocery store and my cashier, her name was Annette, my cashier at the Krogers, was very rude to me. I was having some difficulty understanding what she was saying and communicating with her and instead of being kind to me and helping me through the interaction she got increasingly frustrated with me and just… it was an awful interaction. She was rude, she was angry, she was frustrated, and I was frustrated too. And by the time our interaction in the grocery store was almost over, I was practically in tears. And the whole time, what I should have done, was, "Listen lady, I am deaf. I cannot understand what you are saying." But I couldn't do that, because I had never done that. I had never, ever told people who I did not know that I was deaf. And even people that I did know, it really wasn't something that I wanted to talk about. So I was very upset with myself and I think that moment was when I just decided "You know what? It's time for me to come clean and to tell the world that I am deaf."

So I didn't start working on the book right away, I actually started a blog. And the blog was called El Deafo and it was more of a blog for adults. And I wanted to give hearing people especially a taste of what my life was like, what were some of my frustrations, just everything you know: what is it like to wear hearing aids; what is it like to change batteries and actually have your hearing aid batteries run down; what was it like? And so, that's how it started. And a good friend of mine was interested in the blog and read it, and she said, "This needs to be a graphic novel." And she was right and I had also read Smile by Raina Telegmeier and I just felt like this was the perfect medium to tell my story and I was ready. So remember that I was still in that, I was still just doing this for me. And so, basically I was viewing the book as a manual for hearing people so that they could understand um how to deal with deaf people in maybe a kinder and more respectful way and I was especially focusing on the way sometimes people will shout at you or get angry with you when you don't understand them, and how sometimes they over enunciate their words and make you feel s-t-u-p-i-d. So that is what I wanted the book to be. But it became so much more than that. It became an exploration of friendship, of family, of finding the superhero within, trying to, you know, just tell the world, "I am deaf", which was a really, really hard thing for me to do. I mean, I was practically forty years old and I had still not talked that much about it.

So, after the book was finished and done and ready to be out there in the world, I realized, "Oh my goodness, other deaf people are going to read this. What if I've offended them in some way? Or, what if I've said the wrong thing? Oh my goodness." So then I focused my energy on a very passionate afterword, which is in the back of the book, that just kind of, just makes other deaf people aware of the fact that I know that this story that I am telling is my personal story of deafness. About, you know, just my personal story about being deaf, my own version of my own experience with being deaf. I'm getting repetitive, but I hope you understand what I mean. So anyway, so then we put it out in the world – and I was in a real state of panic – because I was so worried: what are other deaf people going to think. Well, the response has been so positive, so overwhelmingly positive from both deaf people and hearing people. And what's been so nice about the notes I've been receiving from deaf people is that they're all saying, "Oh finally I have found myself in a book!" And stuff like, oh gosh, I wrote down some things, just they've been buying copies of El Deafo to share with their friends and their family, to try to help them understand what it's like for them and maybe they're even sharing copies of the book with grocery store cashiers who have been rude to them. I mean its been astonishlingly positive. And then from hearing people, I've heard things like "Wow, I had no idea that deaf people can't understand people well even with hearing aids." And "I didn't know that deaf people are just like me, they just have some trouble hearing." […] and everybody feels different in some way or another, or even isolated and so even people who can hear have other things that they worry about that make them different and, so that resonated with them too. So that's been really, really exciting, and most exciting of all is, connecting with children who are deaf and who, who maybe are feeling alone and like, no one else understands them, and maybe they're even afraid because they're getting a new hearing aid. So a lot of these kids have read the book and have come out of it thinking, that maybe they're pretty cool after all and their hearing aids are pretty cool and nothing to be ashamed about at all. And so, even though this book came out of really selfish, you know, selfish reason for me, I actually am so pleased that it has helped so many other people and that's all come around and helped me the most more than anybody because I now have friends who are deaf and who understand me and, I just feel like, I really feel maybe like a little bit like a superhero every now and then and that's amazing

So I'm really pleased that this award is specifically for nine through twelve year-olds because the book … that's that period of time where things are, can be really confusing and hopefully El Deafo> will bring some clarity for all those kids out there who might be struggling with anything because all kids are awesome and those things that make them different are really truly their superpowers.

Cece Bell