Jess Waggoner

Position title: Race, Ethnicity, and Indigeneity Fellow (2023-2024)

Pronouns: They/them

Assistant Professor, Gender and Women's Studies and English, UW–Madison

White queer person with curly pink hair and pink lipstick smiles at the camera.

Cripping Afro-Modernisms: Race, Gender, and the Roots of Disability Consciousness, 1900-1950

As an interdisciplinary archival project, Cripping Afro-Modernisms will be the first monograph to establish the relationship between Black American cultural production and early disability social movements. I propose that current scholarship overlooks early disability activism and culture, especially by and about disabled Black Americans. This omission is due to an emphasis on white veterans in pre-1950 disability scholarship and the assumption that collective disabled self-advocacy did not begin until the 1960s. In tracking this emergent politicization, Cripping Afro-Modernisms demonstrates that Black ill and disabled identities became a form of solidarity through collective defiance of medical, legal, and social pathologizing discourses. In conversation with contemporary disability justice organizing, which highlights racial inequalities in the disability rights movement, this project uncovers disability and health activisms by those excluded from veteran and rehabilitation initiatives. By historicizing how artists, writers and activists protested the entwinements of disability, whiteness and masculinity, this monograph uses archival and textual analysis to reveal the Black disabled and ill lives that existed before more recognizable collective notions of disability identity. This project urges us to acknowledge how erasures of disability and health-based protest by Black Americans contribute to current inequities surrounding racial health disparities and differential access to disability assistance in the present moment. Cripping Afro-Modernisms also positions many early twentieth-century Black authors and artists as disability pioneers. Key thinkers such as Wallace Thurman, Claude McKay, Pauli Murray, and Zora Neale Hurston also navigated illness and disability alongside structural racism, sexism, transphobia, and homophobia. However, they have not been canonically recognized as disabled creators due to a lack of intersectional inquiry into their lives and works. I center Black literary and cultural production alongside historical medical and legal sources to offer a yet-unacknowledged archive of Black ill and disabled consciousness in the early twentieth-century.

Jess Waggoner is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Gender & Women’s Studies and English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Their research and teaching interests span U.S. literature and culture, feminist disability studies, queer and trans studies, and Black disability studies. Their first book project – Cripping Afro-modernisms: Race, Gender and the Roots of Disability Consciousness–establishes the relationship between Black American cultural production and disability social movements in the early twentieth century. They are also at work on a second project exploring historical and contemporary forms of ableism within queer and trans cultures. Waggoner’s publications have appeared in venues such as Feminist Studies, Journal of Feminist Scholarship, Journal of Modern Literature, Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies, Modernism/Modernity, Signs, and Modern Fiction Studies.