Sara Novic ;;A CONVERSATION WITH...
Wikipedia describes you as a “deaf-rights activist.” What does your activism look like? It’s a lot of
yelling on the Internet, as activism tends to be these
days. For me, there’s a big writing element to it. I
write op-eds, and I visit a fair amount of deaf schools
to talk to students about why reading and writing
is important. I was also writing a lot of letters to
Senators when the House passed HC 620 earlier this
year. It basically guts the Americans with Disabilities Act. [Democratic opposition ultimately blocked
the bill from reaching the Senate floor.]
Were you born deaf? No. I don’t know how old I was
when I lost my hearing because you don’t notice it at
first. I was maybe 1 2 when I started failing the school
hearing tests, but when you fail, they sometimes
think it was because of allergies or a cold, so you do a
retest. I found in the nurse’s office during retests that
I could see through the curtain the right buttons to
press to pass. So I cheated for a while.
Why did you cheat? I didn’t know any deaf people
at the time and I was embarrassed. Our society
said it’s something that’s not normal, and for a long
time that’s what I thought.
Sitting here, talking to you, it’s impossible to tell
that you’re deaf. People say that a lot. I wouldn’t
consider it a blessing, though. It’s nice that I don’t
have the typical deaf accent because it makes it
easier for me to communicate, on the one hand. On
the other, people don’t make an effort to accommo-
date me the way they would some other deaf people.
People assume I’m a bitch because I’ll be having a
face-to-face conversation, and then I’ll turn around
and they’ll keep talking, and I won’t respond. I’ve
had to learn to advocate for myself, which is hard,
because I’m super shy and introverted.
Your 2015 debut novel, Girl at War, is about a
10-year-old girl whose life is upended by the civil
war that resulted in the dissolution of Yugoslavia.
I understand you wrote most of it on commuter
trains. When I went to grad school at Columbia, I
was living in Philly and commuting, so I wrote a lot of
it on NJ Transit’s Northeast Corridor line. I started
writing it earlier, when I was at Emerson College in
Boston as an undergraduate. At that time I’d do a lot
of writing on Amtrak. Amtrak trains have tray tables,
which gives them the edge over NJ Transit.
Now you’re commuting from Philly to Stockton
University, in Galloway, to teach. What’s that like?
I’m in my second year. It’s a weird mix of people. The
school is going through a lot of changes and getting
bigger. I have a lot of good students. This semester
I’m doing a novel-writing workshop. No one at Stockton has ever done that before, so it could be the best
thing ever or a huge dumpster fire; we’re not sure yet.
You and your husband, Zach Stone, a producer and
morning-show personality at WXTU-FM in Philadelphia, just got married in January, right? We
got married at City Hall in Philadelphia. It’s kind of
weird that he’s on the air, because who knows what
he’s saying? I don’t. Which makes it the perfect job.
You’re currently working on America Is Immigrants,
which will comprise short profiles of Americans
from 195 countries. Any from New Jersey? Yes.
Ukrainian Selman Waksman discovered several antibiotics while at Rutgers. Tadeusz Kościuszko was
a Polish-born volunteer for the Continental Army
in the Revolutionary War, and one of his early tasks
was building fortifications in New Jersey along the
Delaware. And Gideon Sundback, who was Swedish, is often credited for his work inventing the zipper at the Universal Fastener Company in Hoboken.
What’s your favorite memory from growing up
in Trenton? We used to go to Ocean City for two
weeks every summer when I was a kid. There was
a bookstore there, and the lady who ran it would let
me trade books. I’d read one and bring it back and
exchange it. I read so many books in Ocean City.
I’m not sure if she’s still there, but I’d like to give a
shout-out to that lady. —Tammy La Gorce
GREW UP IN
Trenton and Philadelphia suburbs
CURREN T GIG
of creative writing at
BOOK America Is Immigrants, a
of Americans from
195 countries, due in
2019 from Random