Remembering Tobin Siebers, English professor, disability studies advocate


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.​



  1. Nathan Vande Hey
    on January 30, 2015 at 10:50 pm

    Thank you for your wit and your impact on the world.

    Rest in Peace Toby.

  2. Martha Jones
    on February 2, 2015 at 11:30 am

    In addition to his colleagues, Toby is survived by his devoted wife Jill, his children Claire and Pearce, and an extended web of family and friends.

  3. Anne Waldschmidt
    on February 2, 2015 at 12:57 pm

    Thank you, Tobin, for the wonderful cooperation we have had at various occasions over the last decade and more. With your thoughtful essays on art, the body and disability (published 2009 in a German speaking book by transcript publisher: you have greatly inspired and will continue to inspire Disability Studies in Germany. Anne

    • Michele Derr
      on February 8, 2015 at 12:08 pm

      I was very sad to read of Toby’s death in today’s (Feb.8) Ann Arbor News. It is some time since I last saw him but I remember him as charming and so very smart. Rest in peace Toby. Jill, my thoughts and prayers are with you.

  4. Terry Murphy
    on February 2, 2015 at 6:04 pm

    Known as Toby in HS, so damn bright, yet charming as hell. Dare I mention a hell of a playground basketball player. So proud to have spent a little time with a guy who epitomized the “disabled yet able” mantra, so crucial for empowering individuals, but more importantly, enlightening generations of people about the often silent discrimination imposed upon them. We will sing “Blackbird” on the other side my friend. Bravo.

  5. Els Nieuwenhuijsen
    on February 3, 2015 at 5:08 pm

    I have known Tobin since early 2000. Jim Knox, Mike Myatt and I talked in the Undergrad Lab in great length about the need and possibility of establishing a Disability Studies Program (UMInDS) on campus. However, we did not have the resources or the necessary contacts. Jim, by co-incidence heard about Tobin and invited him to meet with us and to discuss preliminary plans . Tobin became instrumental in developing a proposal (in 2003), in receiving seed money, and launching the first year of the program in 2004, and more ….
    It has been a great honor for me to be a part of this endeavor, to get to know Tobin, his integrity, his leadership and his vision.
    I regret not being able to attend the Memorial service… My sympathy is with his family.

  6. Keya Ganguly
    on February 5, 2015 at 11:43 am

    Sincere condolences to Jill and the Siebers family. Tim Brennan and I will always remember Tobin’s sharp intellect, humor, charm, and wonderful conversations we shared with him, over many years, in Ann Arbor, Minneapolis, and Paris. Peace!

  7. Karen Smith
    on March 30, 2015 at 11:56 am

    Tobin Siebers was my dissertation advisor many years ago (1990-92). His influence on my writing and thinking continue, and I will always appreciate how he helped me to see myself as an academic professional. I wish now that I had kept in touch; he was a wonderful mentor. My deepest sympathy to his wife, family, and friends.

  8. Jennifer Thorn
    on April 24, 2015 at 4:52 am

    Rest in peace, Tobin Siebers! Your down-to-earth generosity and intellect mattered greatly to me as I began to imagine my way forward through and beyond grad school in the 1990s. I remember him blazing in the front of a room of us as he spoke of Rousseau’s Confessions, and making a space for free exploration of theory (the Helene Cixous session lingers especially in memory). His blend of character and talent let me know that academics don’t have to choose one or the other. Truly a life that mattered–I am grateful. Rest in peace!

  9. Karina Marín
    on May 29, 2015 at 1:58 pm

    I discovered Tobin Siebers’ works on 2011. Today, my investigation about disability, literature and nationalism in Latin America is possible because of his powerful thoughts. Thank you Tobin for your contribution! I am very, very sad with this news… From Ecuador, South America, my condolences…

Leave a comment

Commenting is closed for this article. Please read our comment guidelines for more information.