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Living Loud: Ella Mae Lentz - Poet, Educator, and Advocate

Living Loud: Ella Mae Lentz - Poet, Educator, and Advocate

Deaf Culture   |  Friday, April 20, 2018

By Marta Belsky

This article is by Marta Belsky. Marta is a third generation ASL user. She has been teaching ASL for 30 years and enjoys sharing her native language with new users.

Ella Mae Lentz is a Deaf American poet, author, educator and advocate. She was born on May 5, 1954 in Berkeley, California to two Deaf parents and has one Deaf brother. In 1971, Lentz graduated from the California School for the Deaf in Berkeley (now known as the California School for the Deaf in Freemont), and went on to Gallaudet University. She graduated from Gallaudet in 1975 with degrees in English and Drama. 

ASL Poet, Performer, and Advocate

Lentz is widely known for her ASL poetry. Many people have studied her poems and have even performed them as reproductions. Some of her original poetry has been published in the video “The Treasure: Poems by Ella Mae Lentz.” A few examples of her poems can be found on YouTube, including The Door (1995), The Rosebush (2008), and To A Hearing Mother (2010).

Lentz was on a talk show titled “Silent Perspectives” in 1974, on television in the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) children’s show “Rainbow’s End” in 1979, a Milwaukee Repertory reproduction of the movie “Children of a Lesser God” in 1980 as character Sarah Norman, and on video with Baker and Cokely’s ASL curriculum commonly referred to as “The Green Books.”

“Instead of looking at what deaf people can’t do, we need to look at ourselves as people who are visual, and who have a community, we need to look at ourselves in a very positive view to confirm who we are as deaf individuals.”
     - Ella Mae Lentz

Lentz has also done hundreds of presentations around the country on ASL, Deaf Culture and Deafhood. At one presentation, Lentz is quoted as saying “Instead of looking at what deaf people can’t do, we need to look at ourselves as people who are visual, and who have a community, we need to look at ourselves in a very positive view to confirm who we are as deaf individuals.” This quote is also representative of her many works of poetry, which focus on bringing Deafhood to the forefront in mainstream American culture as well as Deaf Culture to bolster a sense of community and pride associated with being Deaf. She helped to found the Deafhood Foundation in February 2009 and continues to be on the board of directors. Her goal is to encourage people (hearing and Deaf) to look at Deafhood as an identity based on visual capacity rather than the inability to hear. Lentz also promotes examining traditional definitions of community, ability, relationships and communication that at the same time challenge perspectives of American history related to Deaf people and culture. For example, her interpretation of the National Anthem takes a very direct and personal stance toward American Deaf people that places the focus on Deaf struggles and victories in American history.

Terminology

Deafhood - Deafhood is a Deaf person's unique personal journey to discover and understand themselves as a Deaf person. The term was coined by Dr. Paddy Ladd and was described in an article in Gallaudet Today in 1993. Ladd later wrote a book on the subject in 2003, called Understanding Deaf Culture: In Search of Deafhood.


Educator

Although she is a well-known ASL performer and author, teaching has always been at the core of Lentz’s career and influence. She has over 30 years of experience in academia. She has done research on ASL at many institutions, including: Gallaudet, Northeastern University in Boston, Salk University in San Diego, and the University of California in San Francisco. She also has taught at multiple institutions; Gallaudet University, Ohlone College in Freemont, California and Berkeley City College until her retirement in 2007.

Lentz has developed educational and training material for ASL such as: the National Consortium of Programs for the Training of Sign Language Instructors (NCPTSLI) and the Signing Naturally curriculum series. The NCPTSLI came as a result of a Federal grant program with the National Association of the Deaf with the goal of upgrading ASL instruction, and for two years, Lentz developed and tested curricula and recruited and trained instructors. The Signing Naturally curriculum series started with a three year grant through Funds for Improvement of Post Secondary Education to develop curriculum for teaching ASL as a second language. Her work on the Signing Naturally curriculum continues today.

Advocacy Continues

After retiring from teaching, Lentz formed the company ASL Presents in 2007, which offers services in coaching, consulting, presentations, performances, and ASL and Deaf Culture curriculum. She continues to be an advocate for ASL, Deaf Culture, and Deafhood.

Lentz is married to her longtime partner, Judy D. Gough. The couple has raised five children, of whom the youngest is Deaf. They also have ten grandchildren, of which three are Deaf. They love animals and have had dogs, cats, llamas, a goat, rabbits, rats, a mouse, and iguanas.

For more information on what Lentz is currently working on, visit the ASL Presents website.

Resources

 

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About the Author

Marta Belsky Marta Belsky is a third generation ASL user. She has been teaching ASL for 30 years and enjoys sharing her native language with new users. Marta is on the Lansing Community College Interpreter Training Program Advisory Board and has also been a board member for the Michigan Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf and the Michigan Chapter of American Sign Language Teachers Association.

More about Marta  |  Articles by Marta

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