Saturday, May 05, 2007

Interview with Lois Hodge, author of Season of Change

Last year I was completing my doctoral dissertation, The Portrayals and Perceptions of Deaf Characters in Adolescent Literature, when my friend Emily mentioned that her grandmother was a deaf author who wrote a book for young adults. Her grandmother is Lois Hodge and her grandmother’s book, A Season of Change, was already cited in my dissertation. What a small world!

A Season of Change author Lois Hodge published a story about 14- year-old Biney Richmond. When Gene, a guy who secretly wanted to date Biney, gets himself in trouble, Biney has to prove to everyone how grown up and responsible she actually is.
I mentioned to Emily that I was thinking about starting a small, free newsletter to recommend books with deaf characters to Deaf Education teachers and their students. I think it is important because as a teacher I had a hard time finding enough time developing lesson plans and researching for good books for my students. There is never enough time for teachers! I wanted to create a newsletter to help deaf students find books with characters who are like them and who have had similar life experiences as they may have had.
When I told Emily that I planned on writing publishers to see if I could interview the authors who wrote these books, she said that she thought her grandmother wouldn’t mind being interviewed. Below is my correspondence with Lois Hodge.

LH: I will give a brief outline of my background before answering your questions, which, I think, will explain some of my activities as an adult…. In 1928, I was born deaf (moderately severe), and later (in my sixties) my eyesight began to deteriorate. I have what is called Usher Syndrome, a defective recessive gene condition inherited from both of my parents. I attended elementary and high school training schools of Kansas State Teachers College (KSTC) in Emporia. The classes were then small (no more than 20 students per room). I had the advantage of both teachers and practice teachers to help me with the subjects in school. I attended summer school to keep up with my age group. I also took lip-reading classes for about six years beginning in the 4th grade. I do not know sign language. I graduated with majors in Social Science and Biology and minor in Psychology in 1950 at KSTC. It is now Emporia State University. At the time I attended KSTC there were only 1500 students. Now, there are more than 5000 students.

SPW: How did you come up with the idea to write this story?

LH: I was taking a book-writing course from the Institute of Children’s Literature, Redding Ridge, Connecticut through distance education. The instructor and I explored different topics and she liked my idea of writing about a deaf girl with her hearing problems.

SPW: Do you share any similarities with your character Biney?

LH: Yes, there is a part of me in the story, but I tried to pick out the problems that were common among the deaf and hard-of-hearing children.

SPW: At one point in the book, Biney seems to think of all the things she can’t do. How does she have the strength to overcome such incredible obstacles?

LH: Most deaf/ hearing-impaired children and adults go through the phase of thinking that they can’t do anything. The character’s events and observations of other people, along with her frustrations became catalysts to find ways to overcome the obstacles. It was at this time, when it was necessary to explore… to try new or different ways to determine whether she could handle her objectives. If not, then try something else. She was getting experience in learning what she could and could not do.

SPW: Did you experience any obstacles growing up as a deaf person?

LH: My major problem during my growing up period was communication with the other children in the classroom. When I was with a few children in a group, I could not keep up with their chatter. I had one girl friend who was instrumental in getting me to talk some, when we were by ourselves. I still prefer to talk on a one-to-one basis.

SPW: Do you believe the book while published in 1987 is still relevant today? Why?

LH: While situations have improved considerably with better hearing aids, cued speech, cochlear implants for young children as well as adults, and greater efforts to involve deaf children with children who hear well. Communication is still dependent on how much the deaf/ hearing-impaired children can understand, absorb and then contribute in a group.

SPW: Biney struggled to communicate with her hearing peers and then used a hearing aid to help her hear more. Do you think that American Sign Language would have given her the confidence that she needed or further isolated her?

LH: ASL probably would have given Biney more confidence in communicating with others who knew ASL, but not with children or adults who do not know ASL. Can the ones using sign language understand general talk without it? Can the deaf person talk clearly? The ability would vary with different individuals.

SPW: If you had to write a 2007 follow-up story of Biney, where would she be today and what would she be doing (career wise)?

LH: Biney would try to attend college majoring in art and biology. She would have applied to a position in a museum as artist and researcher. Where she would be accepted is another story. (I have written the story, but decided against publication).

SPW: At the end of the book, Biney becomes the hero and gets the guy! Before that, she has to overcome her fear of using the telephone. As an author, what fears have you had to overcome?

LH: The telephone has been very frustrating. I had so many misunderstandings, that at one time my frustration shoed in my voice. I quit using the telephone. I used TTY for many years. With deteriorating eyesight, I no longer use TTY. All my life, I depended on lip-reading along with whatever sound I heard when personally visiting friends. I learned to be frank that I was deaf and depended on lip reading. Even so, I always received unpredictable reactions. Some responded and talked slowly, some even asked questions about my deafness. However, a few would not have anything to do with me and turned away to talk to somebody else. I left them alone.

SPW: Similar to Biney, have you ever faced people who thought you weren’t capable as a deaf person? How did you prove them wrong?

LH: Yes, I met quite a few people, both as a teen and as an adult, who felt I wasn’t capable as a deaf person. I was even told by a teacher that I wasn’t capable of taking courses through distance education. Since I have deteriorating eyesight, I have been taking Braille through distance education for the past five years at The Hadley School for the Blind in Winnetka, Illinois. In October 2006, I received the Richard Kinney Challenge of Living Award “in recognition of your strength and perseverance in achieving independence through distance education”.

SPW: What advice would you give to young people who are reading your book for the first time today?

LH: My advice for young people is to explore, to be positive, to be persistent in reaching goals and if possible, to try adaptive equipment to keep in touch with others.
Season of Change author Lois Hodge tells the story of 14- year-old Biney Richmond. When Gene, a guy who secretly wanted to date Biney, gets himself in trouble, Biney has to prove to everyone how grown up and responsible she actually is.
Lois L. Hodge was the organizer and first president of the Self Help for the Hard of Hearing (SHHH) group in Fredericksburg, VA. She now lives with her husband in Emporia, KA.

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