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A Trailblazing Cyborg

Recent English alum Jillian Weise publishes essay in New York Times about acquiring a computerized leg.

Date: 1/25/2010
By: Kim Burdett
Phone: (513) 556-8577
Photos By: Provided by Jillian Weise
She was in her second year as a doctoral student at University of Cincinnati when Jillian Weise became a cyborg.

Jillian Weise.
Jillian Weise's first piece of nonfiction was published by the New York Times.

The Department of English and Comparative Literature graduate had relied on her prosthetic leg for years after an amputation at the age of 11. But while a PhD candidate in creative writing, Weise had the opportunity to upgrade to a computerized leg—a highly technological limb with sensors that create more fluid movements for amputees, making it easier to walk.

“It’s a really enigmatic feature of identity,” Weise says. “It’s such a fundamentally distinct way of living when you have a computer that interacts with you, that is on your body.”

Weise wrote about her experience in an essay called “Going Cyborg” in the Jan. 10 issue of New York Times Sunday Magazine.

Weise's novel 'The Colony' will be released by Soft Skull Press this March.

“It was my first piece of nonfiction and it was terrifying,” Weise says with a laugh. “That genre is truly difficult. You’re exposed in ways you aren’t when writing fiction.”

Weise has published a hodgepodge of work, including a poetry collection called “The Amputee’s Guide to Sex” and a forthcoming novel, “The Colony,” about the first amputee to generate a new leg.

Weise worked on the novel in creative writing workshops at UC, taught by English professor Brock Clarke. While here, she even earned a Creative Writing Fulbright Fellowship to travel to Argentina where she gained inspiration by observing Tierra del Fuego, Charles Darwin’s old stomping grounds. Her eight months abroad helped shape “The Colony,” as she incorporates Darwin and other scientists into the novel.

Weise spent a large amount of time researching the U.S. eugenics movement for the book. “To put it simply, the book is a love affair with genetic engineering,” she says.

“I do worry about writing exclusively about disability but at the same time, I can’t write what I don’t know,” Weise says. “I expect that it will continue to be some facet of my writing and I’m happy to be writing about a subject that is so often misconstrued in all forms of media.”

Ultimately, she says she feels lucky to be able to bring attention to something not being discussed.

“I wouldn’t say I’m grateful, but there is a definite thrill to being a trailblazer and giving a voice to something that doesn’t have one.”

Weise received her PhD from UC in fall 2009 but has been teaching as an assistant professor at Clemson University since 2008.

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