Writing "Laughing Allegra" — An Interview with John-Richard Thompson
|John-Richard Thompson is an award-winning playwright and novelist. Together, Mr. Thompson and Anne Ford co-authored, Laughing Allegra: The Inspiring Story of a Mother's Struggle and Triumph Raising a Daughter with Learning Disabilities. In this interview he sets the stage for this powerful and candid book about Anne Ford, and her life with her daughter Allegra, who struggles with learning disabilities.|
John-Richard, why were you drawn to this topic?
I have an uncle with a disability. I know how important it is for a person who is different to be accepted. These are not creatures from another planet, but fellow human beings who need help and understanding. People who are different are not the "other," but more like ourselves than we sometimes want to admit.
What is the important message you think this book holds for people?
I hope the book demystifies the experience of having a learning disability. From the letters and responses we've heard from parents, Anne and Allegra's story helps them with what they're going through. Parents often feel so isolated, that no one understands, that they are suddenly exiled from their social circle. I think this book acknowledges the unique experience of parents with children who struggle with LD. From the book they are finding some comfort in sharing that journey.
It is very difficult to write about such a personal topic. How did you work with Anne to bring this story to the page?
Anne and I went year by year, memory by memory. As a playwright, I am drawn to the narrative form, so in this book we tried to tell a story, one that had an element of intimacy, as if Anne were sharing her thoughts over a cup of coffee with the reader. I wanted the reader to go right into Anne's memories, sitting next to her in doctors' offices, walking nervously into teacher-parent conferences. There's a poetry to this story, one that has roots in time seen through the bond of mother and child.
How do you think Allegra's story holds meaning for families struggling to help their own children with LD?
It's been said that denial is nature's way of easing into acceptance. The range of human emotions is shared by all who face the unexpected in life. For those who have a child with a learning disability, knowing that that range of emotion is normal, even expected, as is described in the book, leads to acceptance, and the opportunity to embrace the situation for what is and what it therefore can be. Parents are mourning the loss of a child's future, at least the way they saw that future. They are guilt-ridden about why this happened. I hope the book shows how to discard the emotions that hold one back, and accept one's humanness in order to reach beyond the disability.
You worked for many years for NCLD. Put this book in perspective in terms of the contribution you would like this book to have to the field of LD.
There are many books written about learning disabilities, and there is information about LD that is available. The intention of this book was to take the reader on that journey with Anne and Allegra, to show how individuals and families react. I hope that it is read by researchers, teachers, and others who deal with the issue. It's not just about the facts of LD. It's about that child sitting there, filled with fears, expansive with potential. It's about the size of the human spirit when it is set free.
About the authors of Laughing Allegra:
Anne Ford served as Chairman of the Board for the National Center for Learning Disabilities from 1989 to 2001, and now holds the title of Chairman Emeritus. During her term, Ford led the reorganization and broad expansion of NCLD, including the establishment of a Washington, D.C. office. In 1994, Ford was appointed to the Department of Health and Human Services, Commission on Childhood Disabilities, as the representative for learning disabilities. Ford was also a member of the New York State Board of Regents Select Committee on Disabilities.
John-Richard Thompson is an award-winning playwright and novelist. His play Indigo Rat, set in Berlin, Germany, during World War II, ran for a year in New York City and received a MAC Award from the Manhattan Association of Cabarets and Clubs. His other plays include Rain House, Water Sheerie, Fruit Bat Safari Camp, and The Glass Bird. He currently lives in New York City. He is the co-author of Laughing Allegra.