For Jason M. Thornberry ’17, writing is no less than liberation, a conviction he shared when presented with the “No Limits, No Boundaries” award in April. The award was given to Thornberry at a biannual celebration hosted by SPU’s Disability Support Services to recognize differences and diversity by spotlighting artistic expression and community work around access, inclusion, and reconciliation.
“Writing gives me autonomy.” — Jason M. Thornberry
“Writing gives me autonomy,” Thornberry said, “and that was especially true when I was recovering from my injury.”
In 1999, Thornberry was a musician in a band. The day before the release of his band’s debut album, he was severely assaulted by a stranger. Thornberry spent four months in the hospital, another year in a wheelchair, and had to learn to speak and walk again while navigating a traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic epilepsy.
Now, Thornberry teaches writing at SPU and has had more than 60 pieces published over the past two years. He is working on a novel that traces five critical days in the life of a disabled, single mother struggling to survive on the streets of Southern California. It’s a novel that reflects his longtime interest in exploring family dynamics, as well as his commitment to the daily work of writing. (He wrote the first draft by hand on a road trip to Oregon with his wife.)
Centering a character with a disability feels natural for Thornberry, but he’s also aware of how often characters with disabilities are just part of the background, individuals whose wants and goals aren’t explored.
Thornberry’s writing not only draws on personal experiences but on years of advocacy as well. As an undergrad, he co-founded Abilities Advocacy, a committee which promoted universal design and other educational strategies and examined campus-accessibility issues. As a School of Education staff member, he and Julie Antilla-Garza, associate professor of educational leadership, co-authored “Neurodiversity SPU,” an SPU innovation grant focused on inclusion for those on the autism spectrum.
Whether it’s on a written page or in the classroom, Thornberry wants people to include disabilities when they consider diversity: “Disability is diversity.”
Illustration by Dom Guzman