Did you know September is National Deaf Awareness Month? To celebrate, we're sharing this thoughtful letter author Ann Clare LeZotte wrote about her new book, Set Me Free.
In the most unusual year for a book release, I was delighted with critic and reader response to Show Me a Sign and so grateful to all of you for your immeasurable support. After the book published, I felt Mary Lambert had more story to tell. It had been difficult (eight drafts?) to find her voice and character, first in sign language outlines, then written words. But when I put down the proverbial pen (more like closing a Chrome book), my mind was still racing with her thoughts, and my heart was aching and pounding with her feelings. She was urging me to continue—and my editor, Tracy Mack, wasn’t far behind!
Maybe the urgency was also coming from other sources. As soon as my library closed in March 2020 and I began working from home, two families with Deaf adolescent daughters I’d met as patrons tracked me down on Facebook. Like the majority of parents of Deaf kids, they are hearing and not ASL fluent. Homeschooling their kids seemed impossible. While the girls had ASL interpreters in school, the support wasn’t there for distance learning. Did I remember multiplying fractions? Could I help with a book report which also started in signs and trickled onto the page? I asked the library for permission and became a volunteer tutor.
I knew well our first lessons would be an unburdening. The girls wanted to be seen and to see me signing. They needed to know they weren’t alone. Growing up as the only deaf member of a hearing family in an era when sign language was discouraged, I maintain a vivid memory of what it’s like to watch spoken interactions, the intimacy and humor of speech, and be completely locked out of that world. I can still feel the hunger and rage. My students constantly asked when they’d be allowed to go back to school, to experience some semblance of ‘normalcy’ again among their peers.
It’s not by chance that this book is about an older Deaf girl teaching a younger one. Of course, Mary makes mistakes in a position somewhat thrust upon her. It’s not an accident that the two principal characters find themselves lost in the woods, make a pact, and find their separate routes home. The experience will bind them forever. I imparted Mary with my knowledge that you learn as much as you teach. As the pandemic dragged on and sickness overtook my disabled lungs, I realized that permanency is an illusion and we do what we can in our own time.
Set Me Free is my version of Ezra Brewer’s Black Dog—a vessel, a harbinger, and a trust. Deaf kids ask me about Mary as if she’s real. She is—made of me in them and them in me. I can’t wait for everyone to meet her unique pupil. I’m a storyteller, not a miracle worker. More dedicated than ever to creating thrilling Deaf tales that are accessible to all.
Thank you for reading,
Ann Clare LeZotte