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November 28, 2003

Belleville - When you can’t hear, the silence can be Deafening

From: Stirling Community Press, Canada - Nov 28, 2003

by Kate Everson 11.28.03

Grania O'Neill is five years old in 1902 when she loses her hearing. Following the life of Grania from pre-school in Deseronto to the Ontario School for the Deaf and Dumb in Belleville (now Sir James Whitney School), through her marriage to Jim Lloyd, a hearing man who becomes a stretcher bearer in World War I, author Frances Itani captures the heart of the reader in her book Deafening. Itani was at a Brown Bag Lunch at the Belleville Public Library on November 26, talking about why she wrote the story, reading excerpts and signing books. "The seed of this book was planted when I found the ledger of my grandmother at the Ontario School for the Deaf [OSD]," Itani said. "I wept to see those original records." Itani went on to study six levels of American Sign Language (ASL) and never had to use an interpreter when interviewing deaf people. She said they gave her great detail which the readers loved. She also got ideas from an 1892 newspaper at OSD called The Canadian Mute, later called just The Canadian, when the word Dumb was also taken off the name of the school in 1911. "I was trying to find out what it was like to be deaf at the turn of the century," she said. "When I realized that was also the time of World War I, it was a pretty overwhelming field of parallel research." Itani worked on the book for six years. "I did not give up," she said, "although there were times when I wondered if I would ever see the end." Several people from Sir James Whitney School attended the presentation which was "signed" with amazing proficiency by Erika Tipping from Stirling. Itani is currently on tour for three months across North America, with presentations locally in Belleville, Deseronto and Picton. The book will be available in Europe in December and in the United Kingdom in January where Itani will continue to do presentations. The book has been translated into many languages. "The deaf community are now reviewing my book," Itani said. "It is all over the web." At a recent World Congress in Montreal the publisher Harper Collins donated 3,000 copies of the book to the deaf community. When asked why she named the book Deafening, Itani said it represents the internal silence of the deaf as well as the awful sound of World War I. "Men went mad from the sound," she said. "They tried to dig their own graves." Itani was born in Belleville and is the author of nine books including four short story collections as well as poetry and children's stories. She has won several literary awards.

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