Kent State celebrates the Deaf cultural experience


People attending Deaf Night Out wait for their food at downtown Kent’s Buffalo Wild Wings on Feb 3. 2016.

Julie Riedel

Deaf cultural experiences took over the weekend at Kent State main and Trumbull campuses. On Feb. 18, Willey Conley promoted his first novel “The Deaf Heart” at the main campus, and opened his photo exhibit “Human Sign Language” at the Trumbull campus. Conley promoted “The Deaf Heart” on Feb. 19 at Trumbull, and lead an American Sign Language, ASL, workshop “Get Arty with American Sign Language—Creative Explorations into ASL” at Trumbull on Feb. 20.

Conley is a deaf writer, photographer, actor, playwright, and teacher. He was the first deaf certified medical photographer the hospitals he worked in include Johns Hopkins, Yale, University of Texas Medical Branch and Cedars-Sinai.  He toured with the National Theatre of the Deaf leading him to write plays from the Deaf perspective. Conley teaches at Gallaudet University in the theater arts department.

“The Deaf Heart” is a work of fiction but takes inspiration from Conley’s life. It started as three separately published short stories that he combined the stories to express the Deaf experience.

“His first career influenced him greatly in many ways, it’s definitely the focus of his novel ‘The Deaf Heart’ it’s about a young man going through high school a little bit, but mostly through college, finding a career and really it doesn’t focus so much on his deafness… it mostly focuses on him as a photographer, but you can’t avoid the fact of his deafness in the theme of the book.” said Carol Robinson, an associate professor of English at Kent Trumbull. Robinson invited Conley to Kent, she worked with Conley at Gallaudet University and the two have maintained a work-based friendship.

The Kent campus presentation of “The Deaf Heart” had approximately 30 people in attendance. Conley started his presentation with a promo video and then he switched to a slide show about his life and the novel. Conley shared stories that influenced the novel as well as showing some of the photos inside. He presented with ASL and an interpreter translated the signs into spoken English. In the question and answer section students in the ASL programs got an opportunity to practice ASL and learn more about the novel, Conley and the Deaf culture.

“I thought it was really interesting to see his perspective on writing a novel about the Deaf experience and I myself am hearing so I didn’t know what the Deaf experience was.” said Tehya Morgan freshman special education major. 

Conley will have his “Human Sign Language” photo exhibit displayed from Feb. 18 to March 3 in Kent State Trumbull Link Art Gallery. The exhibit then moves to the Uumbaji Art Gallery in Oscar Ritchie Hall. “Human Sign Language” is a photo collection of road signs and handwritten signs.

“Communication with people who can hear is often inaccessible or difficult, unless I write back and forth with them in English on paper.  What I have come to appreciate are symbols or written English language on signs in the American landscape.  Handwritten, manufactured, or printed text are little windows of access where I understand the language of a particular environment” said Conley.

Conley has worked with KSU in the past. In 2009 Kent Trumbull performed Conley’s play “For Every Man, Woman and Child” a modern adaptation of “Everyman” that includes ASL and speaking, and Conley lead an ASL workshop for the cast and crew. Conley has also had a signing of his 12 play book “Vignettes of the Deaf Character and Other Plays.”

Julie Riedel is a student life reporter.