Tobin Siebers, co-chair of the university’s Initiative on Disability Studies, V. L. Parrington Collegiate Professor, and professor of English language and literature, and art and design died Thursday.

Tobin Siebers

“We have lost a great champion for disability studies at our university, in the wider U.S. academic ecology, and in the development of our discipline worldwide,” said Petra Kuppers, co-chair of the Initiative on Disability Studies.

“Tobin has been a field-builder, a mover and shaker, and a tireless advocate for a discipline that developed under his and his peers’ guidance.”

Two of his recent books, “Disability Aesthetics” and “Disability Theory,” have become field defining, and can be found on reading lists around the world. They present perspectives on disability’s cultural labor: how disability appears in art, architecture, literature; how its presence and relational web compels new insights into cultures, writing, and experience; and how criticism can offer readers tools for thinking anew about bodies in public space.

selected writings

One of Siebers’ first entries into the new canon of disability studies was his non-fiction book “Among Men,” about what it meant to grow up into a disabled man, lover and father.

“I have learned so much from my generous colleague and friend,” Kuppers said. “I had the great fortune to work with him as co-chair of our initiative, and as co-teacher in our graduate classroom.

“His influence is everywhere: countless scholars in our field have been mentored by him, and he has validated so many of us in our shared quest to focus on disability as a rich and exciting field of inquiry. His legacy lives on in his nourishing critical perspective, his passion and presence, and it will continue to thrive and grow in the thoughts his writings allow us to spin out.

“Disability Studies lives both inside and outside the university, and Tobin was always aware of multiple audiences, and of the need to think capaciously about sources of knowledge and wisdom. Whatever your personal relation to academic writing, I encourage you to re-read or read some of Tobin’s moving and powerful work, and to take a moment to remember him and his spirit through his lines.”

In 2009, the Council for Disability Concerns presented Siebers with the James T. Neubacher Award in recognition of extraordinary leadership and service in support of the disability community.

There will be a memorial service for Siebers followed by a reception at 2 p.m. Feb. 6 in the Michigan League Ballroom. The public is welcome.

Before the memorial service, from 10 a.m.-1 p.m., Siebers will be honored at the UMInDS Symposium on Disability Studies, and at the final sharing of the international, national and local disability culture artists who are coming together in the Duderstadt Video Studio on North Campus.

— Submitted by Petra Kuppers, professor of English language and literature, and women’s studies, LSA; professor of art, Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design; and professor of theatre and drama, School of Music, Theatre & Dance.​

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