Writer Of The Week: Robyn Powell

‘Writing means empowerment.’

Though people often view objective reported journalism as the pinnacle of respectable media work, I’d argue that the personal essay can be, in its own way, just as integral to creating change in society. As a medium explicitly devoted to bridging the ever-widening empathy gap, essay-writing can push people to consider brand-new perspectives or reconsider existing ones, shifting entire ideologies while helping to engender equality. And it is actually subjectivity — the sharing of a definitively personal experience — that most powerfully makes this happen.

Robyn Powell provides a particularly compelling example of these forces in action. Her candid, nuanced essays addressing disability rights through the lens of her own lived experience have no doubt helped countless people question their ideas and biases. At the same time, her writing also deftly weaves in legal context (she’s an attorney) and research-based reporting to provide a multifaceted approach to journalism.

It is through weaving together all these elements—the personal, the contextual, the factual — that Robyn is able to so convincingly argue that, for example, disabled mothers have historically faced grave injustices, or that Trump, Sessions, and Bannon represent an unholy trinity of anti-disability-rights ideology.

When asked what writing means to her, Robyn replied that she finds it empowering. And through her richly layered writing, Robyn empowers us all.

Below, Robyn shares her thoughts on Cyndi Lauper, ice cream, and which Sex and the City character she is.

The TV character I most identify with is Miranda from Sex and the City.

I think “paying writers in exposure” is exploitative and devaluing.

My most listened to song of all time is “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” by Cyndi Lauper.

My 18-year-old self would feel surprised but content about where I am today.

I like writing for The Establishment because it is women-run.

If I could only have one type of food for the rest of my life it would be ice cream.

The story I’m working on now is about sexual assault among students with disabilities.

The story I want to write next is about reproductive justice for women with disabilities.

If I could share one of my stories by yelling it into a megaphone in the middle of Times Square, it would be “As A Disabled Person, I Implore You Not To Vote For Donald Trump.” This was written pre-November 2016 — if only more people had heeded this advice.

Writing means this to me: Writing allows me to express myself in ways that my day job does not. Now more than ever, we need the stories of those from marginalized communities front and center, and writing enables me to do this. Writing also provides the opportunity to give exposure to the issues facing people with disabilities — something that is far too often overlooked. In sum, for me, writing means empowerment.

If I could summarize writing in a series of three GIFs, it would be: GIFs are usually inaccessible to people with disabilities.

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