George Estreich presents "Fables and Futures: Biotechnology, Disability, and the Stories We Tell Ourselves"

Thursday March 21, 7:00PM

@ Red Emma's

In conversation with Nathaniel Comfort

From next-generation prenatal tests, to virtual children, to the genome-editing tool CRISPR-Cas9, new biotechnologies grant us unprecedented power to predict and shape future people. That power implies a question about belonging: which people, which variations, will we welcome? How will we square new biotech advances with the real but fragile gains for people with disabilities—especially when their voices are all but absent from the conversation?

This book explores that conversation, the troubled territory where biotechnology and disability meet. In it, George Estreich—an award-winning poet and memoirist, and the father of a young woman with Down syndrome—delves into popular representations of cutting-edge biotech: websites advertising next-generation prenatal tests, feature articles on “three-parent IVF,” a scientist's memoir of constructing a semisynthetic cell, and more. As Estreich shows, each new application of biotechnology is accompanied by a persuasive story, one that minimizes downsides and promises enormous benefits. In this story, people with disabilities are both invisible and essential: a key promise of new technologies is that disability will be repaired or prevented.

In chapters that blend personal narrative and scholarship, Estreich restores disability to our narratives of technology. He also considers broader themes: the place of people with disabilities in a world built for the able; the echoes of eugenic history in the genomic present; and the equation of intellect and human value. Examining the stories we tell ourselves, the fables already creating our futures, Estreich argues that, given biotech that can select and shape who we are, we need to imagine, as broadly as possible, what it means to belong.

George Estreich is the author of a book of poems, Textbook Illustrations of the Human Body, and of the Oregon Book Award winner The Shape of the Eye, a memoir about raising a daughter with Down syndrome. He has published short prose in The New York Times, Tin House online, Salon, and elsewhere. He lives in Oregon, where he teaches in the MFA program at Oregon State University.  


Nathaniel Comfort is a professor in the Department of the History of Medicine at Johns Hopkins. The author, most recently, of The Science of Human Perfection, a history of medical genetics, he is a regular contributor to public debates over eugenics, genetic determinism, and the social meanings of heredity. He has written for The Atlantic, The Nation, NPR, Aeon, Nautilus, and Nature.

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