A Brief History of Behind Our Eyes, Inc.
by DeAnna Quietwater Noriega
Sanford Rosenthal had a dream. In 2005, Sanford approached the National Writers Union. He proposed starting a writers’ workshop that would meet Sunday evenings by teleconference for writers with disabilities. Thus the Written Word Partyline came in to being.
Michael lived in Ireland, Bobbi in Maine and Diane in Las Vegas, Nevada. In March of 2006, they joined twenty-four others brought together by Sanford, who lived in Florida. At first glance, one might assume it was the fact that they shared the experience of living with disabilities that brought them together. The actual drawing card was that they all loved to write. They met by telephone conference calls and exchanged e-mail messages as members of The Written Word Partyline Workshop. Each Sunday night, they alternated between working critique Sessions and listening to presentations from writers, poets, journalists, teachers and people in the publishing industry.
One of these presenters, Susan Driscoll, made the group an unbelievable offer. She represented iUniverse, a print on demand publishing house. She offered to help them bring a book of their collective works to print at no cost to the group members.
The real scramble was on, as Marilyn Brandt Smith, chief editor and her team of fellow writers worked to winnow out the best of what the group had produced. The outpourings of group members ranged all over the map in style, subject matter and genre. Poetry, essays, short stories drawn from life experiences or pure imagination had to be organized in some semblance of order.
The book also needed a name. Sanford Rosenthal suggested Behind Our Eyes because “Behind the keyboard, many disabilities disappear.” He hoped this book would help the reader see behind the eyes of its contributing authors.
Over three dozen guests offered their expertise during the first eighteen months of the group’s existence. Seth Eisenberg and the National Writers Union helped define the group’s purpose and audience. Susan Driscoll and her staff from iUniverse provided the incentive to produce the first anthology. They assisted with the details of publication and marketing.
Michael Koretsky, media advisor at Florida Atlantic University and managing editor of Jazziz Magazine, was the copy editor. He helped the group rewrite and rethink, dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s. He assisted with formatting issues and content evaluation. It would have taken much longer to produce the first anthology without his guidance and evaluation of submissions.
Poets and teachers Margo LaGattuta, Anastasia Clark and Alice Rogoff were the primary poetry critics. Brittney Wallman, a journalist with the South Florida Sun-Sentinel assisted with essay and prose evaluations.
Kayla Rigby helped with technical issues and a plan for the initial collection of material. Don Rosenthal and Jayson Smith also pitched in with technical help. Marilyn Brandt Smith, primary editor and her team of writers categorized, sorted and made suggestions, working directly with the writers.
Before Christmas of 2007, Behind Our Eyes became available for purchase on the iUniverse, Barnes and Noble and Amazon websites. Three versions were available:
- ISBN: 978-0-595-46493-7 (pbk)
- ISBN: 978-0-595-70303-6 (cloth)
- ISBN: 978-0-595-90791-5 (ebk)
Twenty-seven thrilled authors across the country received their author’s copies of a book of writings that is hard to categorize. If there is a single characteristic to be found in this book, it is diversity of voices. Poet, humorist or stark realist, the book introduced the reader to the world as it is experienced in the realm of the mind.
Erik Weihenmayer, author of Touch the Top of the World and The Adversity Advantage Said:
“I’m always impressed by pioneering efforts. This anthology represents a noteworthy beginning for this group of writers. From the triumphs over adversity dramatized in the first section, to the heartwarming and heartbreaking stories and poems of the final grouping, they show us sensitivity and inspire strength. They show us disability as it is lived honestly. Fables, fantasies, and tips about writing add something new, making this publication a unique contribution to disability literature.”
Former rehabilitation counselor and novelist Christopher Fahy said, “this book is a must read for anyone in the rehabilitation field.”
Arnold S. Goldstein provided legal assistance to form the corporation. Members chose to name it using the title of the book.
Recognizing the need for Bylaws to complete the incorporation process, a Bylaws committee was formed in the spring of 2008. Kate Chamberlin researched and submitted the draft from which she, Chairman John Wesley Smith, Nancy Scott, and Valerie Moreno worked. The committee members have changed over the years but the committee has remained ongoing and active. John Wesley Smith has taken up the challenge of insuring that the bylaws reflect the goals and needs of the group as it matures and grows.
In 2008, the group of writers completed the steps to incorporate and became a nonprofit, with royalties from their first book going toward supporting the future activities.
In 2010, Bobbi LaChance became the second President of Behind Our Eyes. The incorporation meant that a board of directors had to be elected and members of the group had to step up and take on responsibilities that had all previously fallen on Sanford’s shoulders. Bobbi had some big shoes to fill, but she handled them with grace and creativity. Under her guidance, an online magazine and second anthology were formed, and the group continued to flourish.
The first of these activities was the creation of an online magazine featuring the works of writers with disabilities. Marilyn Brandt Smith was the driving force in establishing this ongoing online opportunity for writers with disabilities to be published in a literary magazine. Again, the group needed to have a name for the online magazine. Two names were suggested by Lisa Bush, “magnet” because the magazine could be a magnet to draw in readers, and “ladder” because writers with disabilities are climbing up the ladder of successful writing. The group decided to put the two names together and the name became Magnets and Ladders. Marilyn Brandt Smith was the first Magnets and Ladders editor. Her son Jayson took on the role of technical assistant. Marilyn was the editor of the magazine from its inception in 2010 through 2013. Mary Jo Lord ably stepped up to continue the magazine production beginning as editor in 2014. Magnets and Ladders is an online semiannual magazine made available nationally by the Perkins Library, as well as Audio & Braille Literacy Enhancement from Wisconsin, which submits it to NFB Newsline (a phone based service that permits the visually impaired to have access to newspapers and magazines). It is also available directly online at http://www.magnetsandladders.org.
Behind Our Eyes: A Second Look is the second literary anthology by writers with disabilities, edited by Kate Chamberlin and a committee of Behind Our Eyes writers:
This 2nd anthology was dedicated to Bobbi LaChance, the second President of Behind Our Eyes.
In the second book, the topics range from the ridiculously absurd to tragically abusive. Everything from Cats to rabbits, guide dogs to a guiding miniature horse, medical fiascos to survival tactics and pangs of deprivation to heights of success, all have their place. The vivid tapestry of life these writers wove with their stories, poems, and essays demonstrated what a diverse group of writers they are; yet this montage of creative writings showcases how similar they are to each other and to the world.
Behind Our Eyes, Inc., a 501C-3 nonprofit organization, brought out the second anthology in multiple formats. The book took a second look at the intriguing and insightful pieces of 65 writers.
The book was published by Patricia Gott, Publishing Services, and the impressive cover was designed by Laura Ashton, who printed the book, drawing from the 27 star theme of the first anthology’s cover. It featured a Royal Blue background with NASA’s photo of the Milky Way swirl of tiny, pastel, multi-colored stars.
The original edition was released in June of 2013 with a revised edition in October of 2013. The 368 page volume was a perfectly bound, 6X9-inch book. The organization of this book enabled the reader to read it from cover to cover, flip to a theme, pick a favorite author, or just read one selection each day.
On the back cover tribute, L. John Cieslinski, proprietor of Books, Etc., said, “Disability is not the center of the writing–it is the triumph that forms the beauty of this work.”
Donna Grahmann was the winner of a coupon, which she donated to Behind Our eyes. As a result, Nathan Hale of Ink In Motion developed and produced a professional book trailer for Behind Our Eyes: A second Look. Over 3390 viewers have watched the book trailer at http://youtu.be/hk0uIaQTr24.
in 2013, the Behind Our Eyes logo for the letterhead was designed by Virginia Small, a group member. It begins with a graphic depicting Three books sitting upright. The books are three different heights and widths. On the first book is the capital letter B. On the second book is the capital letter O. On the third book is the capital letter E. Directly beside the books on the right hand side is the text.
Both Behind Our Eyes anthologies are available from the National Library Service for the Blind in the United States in a digitally recorded audio book and a braille edition. Those writers with visual impairments were thrilled to be able to read a copy of their work in an accessible alternative format.
Ten years later, they still meet on Sunday evenings twice a month to listen to presenters and share their work. The E-list continues to thrive. Beginning and experienced writers with disabilities are welcome to join by visiting http://www.behindoureyes.org and completing a membership form.
Some of the original writers have moved on while others have joined the group.
The group has lost two of the original writers who have moved on to that word processor in the sky. Gertie Poole suffered a stroke and Brenda Dillon lost her battle with cancer. Margo LaGattuta has also left this world. Their contributions to the writers group existence are missed, but the drive to write among the merry band continues.
Magnets and Ladders,an online magazine to which anyone with a disability may submit work for possible publication, continues to be published semi-annually. The e-list is a place to share works in progress for gentle critiques. It also serves as a place to announce the individual triumphs of publication and articles about writing.
This history has been compiled to celebrate the tenth anniversary of Behind Our Eyes. The members of the group are also producing an audio rendition of some of the writers reading their own work. There will be a number of prizes awarded in all categories of material submitted to the magazine, as part of the celebration of ten years of sharing, learning and writing.