Good Kings, Bad Kings by Susan Nussbaum


Who was the last disabled character you saw in a movie? Was the disabled character portrayed as inspirational or as a villain? Was he or she cured, killed, or institutionalized? And finally, did the plot hinge entirely on the character’s disability? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, Susan Nussbaum, author of Good Kings, Bad Kings, this year’s Villanova One Book, refuses to see the movie.

For the past nine years, the Villanova One Book program has chosen a single book for all students and staff to read. This book must have significant cultural, moral and political relevance, and must also address diversity and social equality. It must be a work which can be read closely and discussed through a variety of events held throughout the academic year, including a visit and lecture from the author. For the 2013-14 school year, the book Good Kings, Bad Kings by Susan Nussbaum, was the final selection.
The novel is narrated by seven characters who relate their experiences at an institution for disabled adolescents in Chicago, Illinois. These characters are both patients and employees of the institution and its corrupt parent company. Although the patients in the institution are essentially cut off from the outside world, the community that develops within the confines of this isolation cannot be understood by outsiders. The characters share the kind of bond that can only be developed in situations where all individuals witness and are subject to the same set of issues. These kinds of institutions are characterized by poor care and abuse, but eventually the characters are able to begin taking action to control their own fate and prevent further injustice.
On January 28th, Nussbaum was welcomed to Villanova for a day packed with a variety of events to celebrate her book and its message. One of the highlights included Dining Services’ recreation of many of the different foods eaten by characters of various cultural backgrounds in the novel, to be served in Dougherty Dining Hall that evening. The culmination of the day was Nussbaum’s lecture in which she discussed her own experiences with disability, caused by a car accident that left her wheelchair-bound. She talked about the importance of integrating people with disabilities into popular culture in a more significant way to begin extinguishing the stigma attached to disability.
Nussbaum’s hope is that someday it will be normal for movies and books to portratray disabled characters without mentioning their disabilities in the story because they do not have anything to do with the plot. Her hope is to spread the message that the main problem for someone with a disability is not the disability itself, but the social stigma that goes along with it. This stigma can be so easily changed if other people could just acknowledge that disabled people are just as social, capable, sexual and normal as any non-disabled person.

By Aoife Laughlin ’17

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