Examining disability activist and writer Alice Wong’s work, it becomes clear that almost all of her life and career is oriented toward community. The editor of 2020’s critically acclaimed and commercially successful Disability Visibility, her collectivist nature has come further into focus during the promotion of her new memoir, Year of the Tiger: An Activist’s Life, which was recently published by Vintage.
As she was ramping up promotion for the book, Wong was unexpectedly in the ICU in early June for over a month. She wrote about this with typical haunting, funny, and moving flair on her site, Disability Visibility Project. While she was in the ICU, close friends and collaborators were entrusted to help with publicity for the book, friend and fellow disability advocate Sandy Ho among them. Early on, Ho said, promoting the book was a way for Alice to have something to hold onto. “She kept emphasizing that this book, and the book launch, was really the life-giving thing for her in that moment,” Ho said.
An Amazon wish list and a GoFundMe (which has raised over $317,000 to date to cover medical costs) came later, but Ho said she was surprised by the number of people who assumed Wong could still respond to requests for speaking engagements and writing assignments when she was fighting to stay alive. “I think outwardly a lot of people may think, well, she is somebody who has built this incredible media platform. But unlike others who have founded a media platform who are nondisabled, she doesn’t have millions of dollars at her disposal. She’s still a disabled person of color, who is restricted by Medicaid, who needs access to care attendants, and is really very aware of all the ways that politics and power dynamics sometimes force disabled people to make decisions about how they access support when systems and policies fail us.”
Vintage’s Anna Kaufman, Wong’s editor, said Wong’s focus on getting the book out was also her own driving force in a situation she had never encountered in her editorial career. “When Alice was ill, I think that for everyone our first priority was just her getting well, and healing, and having the time to do that. And we were just trying to keep the book moving forward to the end of production. One of the last emails that she sent me before she was hospitalized was basically, ‘Make sure the book comes out.’ ”
Aside from the usual avenues of book promotion, including Wong’s significant presence on Twitter, Year of the Tiger is being promoted via a series of talks cohosted with the Paul K. Longmore Institute on Disability. Ho, who is also cohosting the series, said that the book’s promotional strategy is heavily influenced by the same factors that led Wong to write the book in the first place. “Rather than the narrative of triumph and inspiration, I think during the pandemic was really when Alice realized, given the precarity and vulnerability of disabled people in this time, it’s now or never to tell her story.”
For Kaufman, the community aspect of book promotion is part of the wider mission she sees for Year of the Tiger—something, she said, the wider publishing community is becoming more aware of. For her, the book highlights the barriers that disabled people face in society, both in loud and quiet ways, in a form that is as influenced by zines of the 1980s as by a typical memoir. “I hope that everyone who reads this book is radicalized by it,” Kaufman said, adding, “I think also that there is a lot of beautiful stuff that people can take away about how we can all live our lives more richly.”
Kaufman said the willingness of those around Wong to support the book is a testament to the deep respect she holds as a disabled oracle.
Rallying the troops is often an added burden, but “here none of that was needed,” Kaufman said. “I think people were just ready to leap into action for her, which I think speaks a lot for the type of person she is and the community she’s already built.”
Wong wasn’t available for comment for this story—she has a host of health concerns far more important than a journalist’s prodding questions. However, it’s valuable to read her own conclusion to the photo essay of her “ICU summer,” published on her website, to understand how her work and her life speak to community:
“I have suffered many losses but I still have a deep capacity for joy and pleasure. Slowly, I am poking my head outdoors, soaking up the sun, and appreciating every single breath. I cannot imagine what my life will be like next summer, but I am going to take my time like a snail and feel my way toward the future. Bye for now, bitches.”