Matthew Scott Moore

“Master” interview

(This is a compilation of responses to several interviewers’ questions.)

Are you deaf? Please explain your family background.

I am profoundly deaf. I was born deaf, a "rubella baby," of hearing parents. My mother was exposed to the German-measles (rubella) virus while she was pregnant with me. I was a normal baby, but by the time I’d reached toddlerhood (when hearing babies are energetically babbling, playing with sounds, and forming their first words), I was still "quiet." My family thought I was "shy." I was diagnosed as deaf when I was 18 or so months old–that is, my mother finally realized that I couldn’t hear. My folks, of course, took it very hard. They went through all the stages: denial, grief, anger.

My parents divorced when I was 8, so I grew up with my mother and younger brother and sister–Mark and Terri.

What do they do?

Terri is a cosmetics representative; Mark is a tool-and-die supervisor. Terri has a daughter, my dear niece Lexanne. I see the family once a year or so, at Christmas. Mom was at one time a high-level executive for RCA. She was an enthusiastic bridge player and skilled needlecrafter, respected and loved by many in the community. She died in July 2005 of a chronic heart ailment, and her family and friends will never stop missing her.

Anyone else in your family deaf?

No. I’m the only one.

Do they know sign language?

My mother learned some signs and fingerspelling, as did Terri and Mark; Lexie knows a little. (Unfortunately, I don’t get to see her often.) I’d have to say that aside from them, nobody in my family knows sign language. Mainly, I’ve relied on speechreading skills to communicate with them. However, I NEVER use my voice. When I communicate with my family or other hearing persons, I whisper–I form the words, but I don’t turn the volume on. I would never take a speaking role onstage. So I guess you could call me “nonspeaking Deaf.” (I was considered for the role of Orin in the original Broadway production of Children of a Lesser God.)

Where are you from, and what schooling did you have?

My family lived in Indianapolis, and that was my first lucky break. I was enrolled at Indiana School for the Deaf when I was 3, and began learning to sign immediately. I recall the first time I entered the classroom–the teacher was showing me around. As in many other nursery-level classrooms, there were drawings of familiar things, pets, and objects posted around the room, with the corresponding word in large letters–but there was also a diagram of the corresponding sign. The first one I saw was “dog.” I was excited to see that–to realize that these things could be expressed and described by signs! I was exceedingly lucky to be enrolled in a good program, which ultimately evolved into a first-rate “Bilingual-Bicultural” one. Of course, I was subjected to a stiff dose of speech/auditory training–a traumatic experience for me, as I had a brutal speech therapist of the old “smack-’em-when-they-mispronounce” school. I hated it.

Still, I became a proficient speechreader. I won a speechreading contest when I was 7, and got to ride around the Indianapolis 500 track on the lap of the great Mario Andretti.

I boarded at ISD for several years, so, of course, I picked up ASL quickly. ASL is truly my first language, although I consider myself bilingual. I’m good at switching modes, depending on whom I’m communicating with–to Pidgin Sign English, Signed English, or ASL.

During my high-school years at ISD, I took many advanced-level courses for which I had to read a mountain of books and write reports. In one advanced literature course, all the other students dropped out, and I was the only one left, so I worked with the teacher one-to-one. But it was real punishment–I had to polish off several books a month. Too much.

My favorite books are Frank Herbert’s Dune series, James Clavell’s Shogun, and Ann Rice’s books (I’ve read them all)–particularly Interview with a Vampire and Tale of the Body Thief.

I was the valedictorian of my class at ISD (’77). In my speech, I told the audience that I had "no words of wisdom" to impart, as I was just setting out. In April 1997, I was invited back to give a speech at the Sesquicentennial festivities. I told the audience what I’d said at Commencement, and added that I felt I now had some “words of wisdom” to impart. I told them about my experiences as a publisher and community activist. Got a good response, too.

What college did you go to?

Although I could have attended Gallaudet, I chose National Technical Institute for the Deaf at Rochester Institute of Technology. I decided against Gallaudet because of the conformity factor. I wanted something different. NTID has a diverse population of deaf students–mainstreamed, residential-school, oral, ASL, Signed English, hard-of-hearing, minority, a good variety. Deaf students at RIT can take advantage of the array of “mainstream” courses. It could be frustrating, as they didn’t always offer the support services they were supposed to, but challenging, too. Anyway, that’s how I came to Rochester.

I got involved in the NTID theater program, and my spirits just took flight. I loved it. At ISD, I’d studied several Shakespeare plays in English class, and we performed passages in ASL. One thing led to another . . .

I was involved in 14 NTID productions. My first role was as Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet. (That’s where I got my current sign-name.) While working on The Fantasticks (my second play), I met a hearing RIT student, Tom Connor, who was doing voice. We became great friends, and I taught him how to sign. We later collaborated on several projects, including an experimental musical/sign-play which we produced.

Later I became a resident assistant and House Manager for the Performing Arts Department. It was a very busy time for me–but fruitful.

What was your major in college?

I majored in social work and minored in filmmaking/photography.

What led to your becoming a publisher?

I’d been actively involved with media since I was at Indiana School for the Deaf. I edited the school paper, The Reflector. When I was at the Jr. NAD Youth Leadership Camp, I edited its student publication, The Daily Drum.

In Fall 1981, I founded the Student Communications Center at NTID, because I wanted Deaf students to have hands-on experience producing and publishing a newspaper, and creating TV programming. The idea was to have an up-to-date media center run by NTID students, in much the same way as the “Little Paper Family” (Deaf periodicals of the second half of the 19th and earlier part of the 20th century) involved Deaf people in every aspect of the publication process–writing, proofing, layout, design, typesetting, printing, binding, and mailing. Even though many NTID students were majoring in Printing Production Technology, NTID had no student-run publications. Its glossy quarterly magazine, NTID Focus, had no student involvement. It was even printed by an outside company.

So I got some friends together and trained them, and we started the SCC, developed a newspaper, Perspectives, and a TV network (which started broadcasting after I graduated). After I left NTID, SCC collapsed and was abolished. But some of the people I worked with at SCC continued to work with me on my new venture–my own independent media company.

After I graduated, I produced and directed a pilot magazine-format TV program, Deaf Magazine. It aired in June 1984 on Rochester’s local ABC affiliate. There were segments about a Deaf swimmer, a Deaf priest, a Deaf-Blind convention, and local relay services. It drew unanimously favorable response. I funded it myself, by the way. I wanted to continue it–I drew up a detailed prospectus and budget estimates and all–but I couldn’t find the corporate underwriting I needed. All the available corporate funds, it seems, were going towards the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. No funding, no TV program. It wasn’t a total loss, though. It led to my starting DEAF LIFE.

When I produced Deaf Magazine, I formed my own company, now called MSM Productions, Ltd. That has evolved from a secondhand card table, two chairs, one Macintosh and an ImageWriter, to a well-equipped multimedia office with a Mac network, servers, scanners, and modems.

How did you come up with DEAF LIFE?

I started DEAF LIFE because I wanted to raise money to produce a TV series. It took off on its own path, of course. I wanted to publish a commercial, slick-format magazine for both deaf and hearing readers–something that Deaf Culture/ASL readers AND hearing readers could enjoy. I wanted it to be a commercial venture–to carry ads for mainstream products like Coca-Cola, Toyota, and Gap jeans. That hasn’t happened yet, but I haven’t given up! We do have several good loyal advertisers, and are getting a nice diversity–software, for example.

Our desire was to produce a magazine that could stand next to TIME and People Weekly–to be just as good, just as attractive. Actually, considering I run a “shoestring” company, I’ve gotten indications that DEAF LIFE has surprisingly wide influence.

I chose the title DEAF LIFE because Deaf people have an expression to indicate acceptance of being Deaf as a way of life or reality: “Deaf life, that.”

What were your biggest obstacles/frustrations in getting DEAF LIFE started?

The worst obstacles have been several individuals who are out to destroy my name, simply because they’ve misunderstood my motives. My motive in starting DEAF LIFE is to show good examples of how Deaf people who rely on ASL can lead rich, positive, and productive lives. Some members of the Deaf Community are jealous of my success as a businessman and publisher. I am dealing with a widespread disease called “Crab Theory.” My team and I have suffered enormously because of it.

My success wasn’t handed to me. I earned my reputation for quality. I worked hard for it. And I continue to work hard for it every day.

Money is the most obvious obstacle, so let’s count that a strong second. I started DEAF LIFE out of my own pocket, with help from friends. I received no grants, no assistance from SBA. But as time has passed, my company has been able to earn more, and reinvesting in improving our services to the community, and undertaking more projects.

What else would you like to accomplish with DEAF LIFE?

I’m still getting calls, faxes, and notes from people who say that they had no idea DEAF LIFE existed–they’d just found out about it and were curious to learn more about it. DEAF LIFE has a high pass-along rate, but I feel that a huge segment of our potential readership remains untapped, because I haven’t gotten prime-time mainstream-media exposure. An ad in Reader’s Digest or People might do wonders for us, but I couldn’t begin to afford the cost.

One measure of success is the number of “mainstream” advertisers I’m able to attract. When I start getting ads from Coca-Cola, Saturn, McDonald’s, the Gap, Reeboks, and Levi’s, then I’ll know that DEAF LIFE has “arrived.” That will show that the mainstream companies truly recognize the Deaf community as a desirable market. That’s one of my goals, and I have yet to reach it.

Likewise, I haven’t reached more than a fraction of the total number of people who could benefit from DEAF LIFE–deaf people in isolated areas, those who are struggling to achieve first-class citizenship, foreign deaf people, parents of newly-diagnosed deaf children, those who have been brainwashed into thinking that oralism is the only way to go, especially those who are considering installing cochlear implants in their children because they want them to be “normal,” hearing people who still have misconceptions about deaf people and their capabilities, those who are curious about the Deaf community, or are interested in pursuing Deaf-related careers, deaf people in nontraditional ventures, medical professionals, lawmakers, etc., etc.

What makes DEAF LIFE different from other publications?

Our focus is on the Deaf community. But unlike many other Deaf-oriented publications, it’s independent. We still have no official ties to any organization, group, agency, or institution. That’s how I want it.

Also, I try to present a balanced picture. The Deaf community includes ASL-Deaf, born-deaf, late-deaf, culturally-Deaf, oralists, cochlear-implanted, hard-of-hearing, and a number of hearing people, too, let it not be forgotten–parents, relatives, neighbors, families, teachers, interpreters, service providers, and the just-plain-interested. So my aim is to have DEAF LIFE appeal to a broad segment of the community, while taking a pro-ASL stance. I’ve published articles about oralists and signers who prefer signed-English systems, what-have-you. I want DEAF LIFE to be an open forum for the free exchange of views on all issues that affect us. On the other hand, I support the right of deaf people to use ASL, to have ASL recognized as a language, for deaf children to have the benefit of an education that includes ASL. Very few other Deaf-oriented publications take a pro-ASL, pro-Deaf Culture stance.

How long has DEAF LIFE been around?

We published our long-delayed Trial Issue in June 1987. It was supposed to have been out in Fall 1986, but it kept getting postponed. My motley crew of volunteers, as a whole, were more committed to squabbling, acting irresponsible, or simply dropping out–don’t ask. It was ridiculous. Everyone blamed me. It was a wonder that the Trial Issue ever saw the light of day, but it finally did. Then in July 1988, we published our first monthly issue, and we’ve been at it ever since. DEAF LIFE celebrated its 10th anniversary with the July 1998 issue.

DEAF LIFE, in turn, spawned our first book, For Hearing People Only, and we hope to produce videos and other goodies, all with a Deaf Awareness theme.

Meanwhile, I got a plum offer to direct a community-based agency in Indianapolis–but I wanted to be my own boss. And the people I work with like being part of my team. My company, MSM Productions, is still a tiny, struggling venture run on the proverbial shoestring. I am proud to say that it is STILL Deaf-owned and Deaf-operated. And independent. Some people don’t believe that, which is a sad comment on the state of Deaf self-esteem. But we’re real, we’re here, and we’ve accomplished something.

How did you come up with the idea of the book For Hearing People Only?

Simple–I was always getting asked the same questions by well-meaning but uneducated hearing people, and the Deaf people I worked with kept running into the same questions over and over again as well!

Actually, the book was an outgrowth of one of the regular features in DEAF LIFE, a Q/A column that is probably its most popular item, along with the “Readers’ Viewpoint,” “Caption Report,” and “Letters.” Back in 1987, while we were working on the Trial Issue of DEAF LIFE, I told my Copy Editor, Linda Levitan, that I had an idea for a regular feature. Each installment would contain a single question–of the sort commonly asked by hearing people–with our reply. She thought it was a terrific idea, and began making lists of questions she’d already been asked, collecting new questions from her hearing acquaintances, and getting together good answers for the limited space we had. Our first “HPO” installment, in our first monthly issue, was “ASL: what is it?” Well, we’re still figuring out how best to answer that one!

It wasn’t long before we realized how important “HPO” was to many people (including those who knew nothing about our magazine!). Readers were running off, distributing, and posting photocopies of our columns (with or without our permission); we were getting wonderful questions and enthusiastic inquiries from readers, out of the blue. We got raves; we got complaints. The column was obviously being read. We discussed the possibility of publishing a book–just another idea.

The final impetus was provided by Bruce Hlibok, whom I talked with at the Second ASL Literature Conference in 1992, which I co-chaired.

Bruce and I were walking to the hotel, and he nudged me urgently. He said, “I’m tired of running off photocopies from your magazine. Why don’t you publish a book?” I retorted, “After losing money on the first two years of DEAF LIFE? Losing, losing, losing! You think I’m going to publish a book?” “The book is important,” he said. “It’d make things so much easier for all the ASL teachers. Instead of searching around for the material they need, they’d have this one handy book! The ASL teachers will appreciate it.” Well, that did it. I decided to publish “HPO” in book form. I went back and asked Linda about it, and she replied “YES!!!” very enthusiastically. And so we launched Deaf Life Press and the first edition of For Hearing People Only together.

Putting the book together–revising, expanding, and updating the first 48 installments, designing it, and getting that published–took several months. For Hearing People Only was published in Fall 1992. It started selling slowly (our basement was piled high with cartons of books), but by May 1993, it had sold out. And by that time, we had the second edition ready, containing 12 additional chapters and revisions. Sales picked up as schools and colleges began ordering and reordering it for their classes, so I knew that there was a definite need for this book. We were onto something big!

The third edition, published in April 2003, is now in its 6th printing. It’s completely revised, updated, and expanded, with a full-scale index. Considering that I haven’t invested much in advertising, it’s been a virtual hotcake.

Judging from the letters we’ve gotten, it’s made an impact on its target readership–hearing people who didn’t know anything about the subject and were curious to learn more. Of course, deaf people read it too! Especially touching are the letters we’ve gotten from parents of deaf children. They’re really grateful to have a simple, useful, reassuring handbook just for laypeople, written, illustrated, and published by deaf people too.

Tell me about Great Deaf Americans: The Second Edition.

Great Deaf Americans: The Second Edition is my second book. Although Bob Panara is listed as co-author, I included a brief note on the history of the book that explains that he essentially granted me the use of the "Great Deaf Americans" title, and gave me the freedom to shape the book as I saw fit.

I first discussed the possibility of doing a complete revision with Bob Panara in Fall 1993. (For the record, he was principal author of Great Deaf Americans , published by T.J. Publishers in 1983.) He agreed to the idea. By that time, the original edition of Great Deaf Americans had finally gone out of print. In Summer 1994, my company obtained an OCR (optical character recognition) program and scanner, and in September 1994, I scanned a copy of the original typewritten manuscript. That turned out to be more or less unnecessary, since I ended up rewriting the book almost from scratch!

We didn’t make much progress on the project until Summer 1995. We began what was an exhaustive letter-writing campaign to people–those who had been profiled in the first edition, museums, archives, schools, colleges, libraries, teachers, newspapers, secretaries, agencies, relatives, colleagues–everyone who might be able to provide information and photographs for the book. Linda Levitan assisted me with the research, letter-writing, and editing. The actual revision, touch-ups, design, and technical stuff took a year. And once that was done, the book went to press.

How did you collect information from each person?

Bob Panara gave me his old GDA files, which were a start. For the “historicals,” including those who had died since the first edition was published, I contacted libraries, museums, schools for the deaf, newspapers, and other sources. For the “contemporaries,” those who were still alive and active, I communicated with many of them directly. A couple of profiles had to be eliminated from GDA-2 because I couldn’t find enough information about them. In some cases, relatives were extremely helpful.

Very little personal contact was involved. I relied chiefly on correspondence–letters, faxed or written interviews, TTY calls–and research. In some cases, the profiles kindly provided clippings and other useful material. A couple of profiles didn’t respond at all, so I made do with what I could get elsewhere. I kept in close touch with as many living profiles as possible, sending them drafts of their chapters for their review. They appreciated having the opportunity to see what was going into the book. A few were a bit jittery at first because there had been numerous errors in the first edition, and I was determined to make GDA-2 as accurate and up-to-date as possible. So the revisions flew back and forth as the chapters took shape.

It was hard work, but great fun. I “met” a lot of interesting, genuinely helpful people through this venture–both the actual profiles, and others, such as photographers and archivists. So, really, writing a book like this was not a solitary task. It was a team effort.

What other books have you published?

Our second book was Bernard Bragg and Jack R. Olson’s Meeting Halfway in American Sign Language, a photographic Deaf/Hearing-communications textbook. It took us 3 years to finish the complicated photo-work, and we finally published it in April 1994.

Our third book was Raymond Luczak’s St. Michael’s Fall, a collection of autobiographical poems. Compared to Meeting Halfway, St. Michael’s Fall was a snap! We published that in January 1996.

Robert F. Panara’s collected poems, On His Deafness and Other Melodies Unheard was published in October 1997.

Victory Week, our first children’s picture book, was published in December 2001.

What other projects do you have planned?

Our company’s motto is “Making the world a better place for the next Deaf generation—and for deaf people now.” DEAF LIFE is our community-service project. We’re working on long-range, multi-media projects that will benefit the Deaf community even more than DEAF LIFE has.

A full-length biography of “Dummy” Hoy is in the works. More biographies, children’s books, and multimedia are being planned. With these new projects, I hope to expand our influence, and to amplify our positive impact on the general community. I can’t go into detail about these, but I’m excited about the prospect!

What would you say to young Deaf children who would like to write books like you?

Go for it! I encourage anyone interested in writing to get into the habit of reading and writing for pleasure. Read good books and articles. Develop critical and analytical skills. If you have a favorite book or story, what makes it special to you? Think about what makes a good book good and a bad book bad. If you have a favorite TV sitcom, write a review of it. Analyze the characters, humor, and plot. Analyze a People Weekly profile. Write about people you know. Have deaf penpals. Keep a journal. Make lists of things–titles you like, odd and unusual names. Read about history–the stories of the kings and queens of the Bible and Europe, for example. American history is a complex, exciting story. History isn’t boring. Anyone who wants to write nonfiction needs to gain a good understanding of it. The important thing is to have an open mind and a good attitude.

Are you married?

I have never been married. My co-workers joke about me being married to DEAF LIFE. The DEAF LIFE team functions rather like a family. Having no conventional “family ties” gives us more freedom to concentrate on DEAF LIFE and our other projects.

What’s your schedule like?

It’s hectic. Running a multi-media company like ours is a full-time job, and more. Every day is different, but a typical day involves a variety of challenges. First thing I do, I have to check the letters, inquiries, book and subscription orders, and requests scrolling in via fax and E-mail. There are usually several book orders coming in every day. Some are rush. All of us help prepare the orders for pickup and mailing. Linda takes care of mailing single books and bunches of outgoing letters. A few staffers and volunteers help with the technical stuff and mailing. All of this is juggled with our ongoing book projects.

I’m constantly working on our Websites, too, setting up new ones, upgrading existing ones, monitoring chatrooms, convening meetings with monitors, editors, and contributors.

We’d be working around the clock, were it not for the fact that, being human, we need to sleep. Sometimes we have to put in an all-nighter.

What sort of influence has your work had on the community?

DEAF LIFE has had a positive impact on the Deaf community, and beyond. I feel that I’ve reassured some anxious parents. When they see me, a successful deaf person running an independent business, they see what their own children, too, can achieve, given support, a good education, and open communication.

One thing about education is that you have to keep at it–it’s an ongoing, lifelong process. You have to maintain a presence in readers’ lives. Education is a mutual process, too. We’ve learned a lot from our readers. They’ve taught us many things, and have taught each other. That’s the beauty of mass media and a free press–high impact, and some measure of democracy. All of our readers have a share

I’m always pleased to see young deaf people expressing an interest in writing, editing, or publishing. I’ve encountered many deaf kids who said that they’d be interested in working on a magazine, and I told them, “Great!” A few years ago, I was invited to The Learning Center in Framingham, Massachusetts, to conduct a workshop in which the students put together and published their own newsletter. We all worked hard and had a great time.

Do you have any philosophy about the Deaf Culture?

An enormous question! But to answer briefly, if you want to know my philosophy of Deaf Culture, read my book, For Hearing People Only.

Any advice for the hearing or deaf people?

The Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” That’s the precept that has guided me, and which I live by.

Any other comments?

Advice for hearing readers: As you probably know, three of the hottest and most bitterly-debated issues in our community are mainstreaming/“Least Restrictive Environment,” oral-versus-manual education, and cochlear implants for children. What Deaf people are asking is that the unique and individual needs of each deaf child be taken into account. On these three issues, in many instances, hearing “experts” have been making virtually ALL the decisions, with no input solicited from Deaf people. We ask to be involved in matters pertaining to the well-being of deaf children. We ask to be allowed to have our own community, that our language (ASL) be respected, and that our collective experience and wisdom as Deaf people not be disregarded.

Long-range view: As long as deaf people are denied equal rights, as long as deaf children are denied a voice, as long as there are undereducated and languageless deaf people anywhere, as long as there are prejudice, discrimination, negative attitudes, stereotypes, ignorance, and misunderstanding–our task remains unfinished. There is always more work to do. n

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