Creative Writing MFA Alumni Spotlight: Sami Schalk ('10)

Author: Paul Cunningham

Sami Schalk Headshot Square 2

"In practice, the holistic nature of Black disability politics means that this political work can take a variety of forms, from patients' rights advocacy and health-care reform protests to the creation of community-support systems and individual consciousness-raising and empowerment. Black disability politics provide a framework for understanding the wide variety of ways that systems of race and (dis)ability intersect in our world and the many avenues one might take to fight these oppressive systems."

— from Dr. Sami Schalk's Black Disability Politics

Dr. Sami Schalk's ('10) second book, Black Disability Politics, was published by Duke University Press in 2023. Kimberly Springer (author of Living for the Revolution: Black Feminist Organiztaions, 1968-1980) argues that Dr. Schalk's latest book challenges " myriad assumptions about disability activism and Black social movements, this book is an essential and overdue bridge between how we think about Blackness and how we think about disability." S. Bear Bergman (author of Special Topics in Being a Human) calls Black Disability Politics "a rigorously researched look at all the ways that disabled people’s concerns have been foundational to Black resistance organizing." Karla J. Strand (Ms) describes Dr. Schalk's book “as a long-overdue and essential volume.” In New York Amsterdam News, Jordannah Elizabeth writes, "Black Disability Politics is a profound exploration and documentation of a cultural topic that has gone overlooked throughout the entire history of the Black American experience [...] A deeply important view of the fight for the rights of disabled Black people in America since the 1970s."

Marissa Higgins interviewed Dr. Schalk about disability, race, and privilege during COVID-19 for the Daily Kos in January:

MH: What are a few examples of ableism that able-bodied people might not recognize as ableism?


SS: I'm thinking about this in the context of being in the classroom, but I think it can work in other contexts, too. We make an assumption about the way that someone shows they're paying attention. They’re looking up there, sitting still, they're looking you in the eye ... Maybe they're taking notes, right? But for a lot of folks, that's not the way they pay attention. They might actually need to be moving or looking somewhere else or doodling and they're actually paying attention and listening quite well.

In March, Dr. Schalk was invited to Salem Academy and College as a featured guest. She gave a presentation on Black Disability Politics and a book signing followed.

“As we celebrate Women’s History Month, Dr. Schalk’s work demonstrates the importance of viewing both gender and health through an intersectional lens,” said AJ Mazaris, Ph.D., Salem Academy and College Vice President for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion. “Our work to develop the next generation of health leaders will be enriched through engagement with her scholarship and practice, and we are very excited to welcome her to Salem!”

In September, Dr. Schalk interviewed Clarkisha Kent in Eater about her book Fat Off, Fat On: A Big Bitch Manifesto (The Feminist Press, 2023). In December, Dr. Schalk celebrated three years of her "Pleasure Practices" column featured in Tone Madison. Dr. Schalk describes "practicing pleasure" as a "means of emotional survival."

In March 2024, Dr. Schalk will give the keynote address at the fifth annual Richard Macksey National Undergraduate Humanities Research Symposium at Johns Hopkins University. The conference will be held from March 21-23.


Dr. Sami Schalk is Associate Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies at the University of Madison-Wisconsin. She holds a BA in English (Creative Writing) and Women’s Studies from Miami University, an MFA in Creative Writing (Poetry) from University of Notre Dame, and a PhD in Gender Studies from Indiana University. She has published on literature, film, and material culture in a variety of peer-reviewed humanities journals.

Dr. Schalk’s first book, Bodyminds Reimagined: (Dis)ability, Race, and Gender in Black Women’s Speculative Fiction (Duke University Press 2018), argues that Black women writers of speculative fiction reimagine the possibilities and limits of bodyminds, changing the way we read and interpret categories like (dis)ability, race, gender and sexuality within the context of these non-realist texts.

Her second book, Black Disability Politics (Duke University Press 2022), explores how Black cultural workers have engaged disability as a social and political issue differently than the mainstream, white-dominated disability rights movement. In doing so, Dr. Schalk argues that because Black disability politics take on different qualities, the work has been overlooked or misrecognized. Using archival work on the Black Panther Party and the National Black Women’s Health Project, as well as interviews with contemporary Black disabled cultural works, the book offers a framework for both identifying and enacting Black disability politics for scholars and activists.