The Deaf Heart

A Novel

By Willy Conley

Categories: Literature / Poetry / Literary Studies
Imprint: Gallaudet University Press
Paperback : 9781563686030, 232 pages, October 2015
Ebook : 9781563686047, 253 pages, October 2015
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Willy Conley’s novel captures the cultural heart of the Deaf world.


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       Told through a series of quirky, irreverent short stories and letters home during the early 1980s, The Deaf Heart chronicles a year in the life of Dempsey “Max” McCall, a Deaf biomedical photography resident at a teaching hospital on the island of Galveston, Texas. Max strives to become certified as a Registered Biological Photographer while straddling the deaf and hearing worlds. He befriends Reynaldo, an impoverished Deaf Mexican, and they go on a number of unusual escapades around the island.

       At the hospital, Max has to contend with hearing doctors, nurses, scientists, and teachers. While struggling through the rigors of his residency and running into bad luck in meeting women, Max discovers an ally in his hearing housemate Zag, a fellow resident who is also vying for certification. Toward the end of his residency, Max meets Maddy, a Deaf woman who helps bring balance to his life.
       Author Willy Conley’s stories, some humorous, some poignant, reveal Max’s struggles and triumphs as he attempts to succeed in the hearing world while at the same time navigating the multicultural and linguistic diversity within the Deaf world.


Willy Conley is an award-winning playwright who has published in American Theatre, The Deaf Way II Anthology, Deaf World, Stages of Transformation, Theatre For Young Audiences Today, The Tactile Mind, No Walls of Stone, Deaf American Poetry, Deaf American Prose, Deaf Lit Extravaganza, and Daring to Repair Anthology. He has two books of plays, Vignettes of the Deaf Character and Other Plays and Broken Spokes. His plays have had professional productions nationwide and internationally, at venues such as the Kennedy Center, the Boston Center for the Arts, ARBOS, the Boston Playwrights Theatre, CenterStage, the National Theatre of the Deaf, Imagination Stage, Olney Theatre, Walnut Street Theatre, Amaryllis Theatre, Bailiwick Repertory Theatre, Omaha Diner Theatre, and off-off Broadway. He has garnered awards from the VSA arts 2000 Playwrights Discovery Competition, the Sam Edwards Deaf Playwrights Competition, The American Deaf Drama Festival, the Baltimore Playwrights Festival, the ‘99 and ’97 NeWorks Festival in Boston, the Laurent Clerc Cultural Fund, the Lamia Ink! International One-Page Play Festival, and is a recipient of a PEW/National Theatre Artist Residency grant and the 2007-2008 Schaefer Professorship. Conley is a professor of Theatre Arts in the Department of Art, Communication, and Theatre at Gallaudet University in Washington, DC.


Advance Praise

“Willy Conley’s debut novel, The Deaf Heart, offers a fascinating, episodic look at one deaf young man’s journey to become a professional biomedical photographer in what always will be a hearing world. Conley draws on his own background—as a playwright, photographer and member of the deaf community—to offer an insightful look into the effort that any person with a 'difference' must make, not only to overcome obstacles and prejudice, but also to help others ultimately appreciate our universal humanity.”

— Frank Van Riper, author, photographer, columnist, teacher

“Willy Conley's novel is rich and gripping, handsomely capturing the deaf aspect of human experience.”

— David Hays, founder and director of the National Theatre of the Deaf

“The essence of Conley's insightful writing involving 'the Deaf experience' clearly comes from the heart of a photographer and playwright, and one who happens to be deaf. It is moving and sometimes funny."

— Christopher Durang, Tony Award-nominated and Obie Award-winning playwright and actor

"Willy Conley achieves a deeply personal, memoir-like quality in his fiction. You will be taken to a little known world that opens your eyes and makes you cherish your ears."

— Paul Boor, MD, Professor and Pathologist, University of Texas Medical Branch

"The triumph of The Deaf Heart is that Willy Conley doesn’t give us insight into the life of the Deaf but into the life of a highly specific and endearingly real Deaf person. Max is a smart, wryly funny, openhearted character who spends his days as a medical photographer and his off-hours gleefully exploring Galveston, Texas, from its upper crust to its seedy underbelly, with a cast of vividly drawn sidekicks. Their adventures will make you laugh, break your heart, and make you see—and hear—your own world in a new way."

— Marisa de los Santos, New York Times bestselling author of "Belong to Me" and "The Precious One"