By Kelcey Norris
William Clark, a 2019 graduate of Youngstown State University, dedicates his time to advocating for individuals with disabilities. He recently published his own collection of poetry in a book titled “The Ever So Accurate Tales of a Not So Average Man: The Testament of a Modern Disabled Man.”
Clark sold 500 copies in the first six months after its release. His poems detail how cerebral palsy affects his life physically and emotionally. YSU recently purchased a copy of the poetry collection for Maag Library.
“There’s a lot of social stigma around being disabled,” Clark said. “What I hope to do with this collection of poems is provide a first-person perspective on what it’s like being disabled. I wanted to give a really candid view of not only the physical aspect, but also the mental health aspect, because that is an area that’s really not touched upon.”
After some of his friends read his poem about a breakup, they encouraged Clark to combine his passion for writing with his advocacy. Clark, who graduated with a degree in communication studies, dreamed of his first published piece of work since the beginning of elementary school.
“There’s a little book I wrote in kindergarten out of construction paper that says, ‘I want to be an author,’” he said. “It’s always been my goal to become a published author, so when I got the opportunity, it really became a dream come true.”
Clark found himself unemployed when the pandemic began. He turned to his poetry as a source of meditation and compensation, and published the first half of the book in the online edition of YO Magazine at YSU.
“I was just sitting there with a bunch of poems, unemployed, just graduated and wanted something to do to entertain myself. So I decided I’d hire my own people and use some of my media connections from my time in politics, so let’s just promote this,” Clark said.
He hired a small team based in Youngstown to get his book out there, including an editor and an artist to design the front page. Clark officially became a self-published author in June 2020.
“I have a philosophy in life to jump into things and ask questions later,” Clark said. “When you’re disabled, with the social stigma, you are put into this box and people don’t expect much from you. If you play your cards right, that can work to your advantage … I was bored one day and said, ‘Well, I don’t know how to publish a book, but let’s try it out.’”
He described the feedback so far as positive, receiving short notes from readers about how inspired his words made them feel.
“A lot of disabled people suffer in silence; it’s a universal thing but they think it’s just themselves,” Clark said. “I wanted to be as raw as possible and pull back the curtain to say, ‘No, I suffer from this thing as well,’ and just be as honest about my feelings and who I am.”
“Everything we do has an effect on someone else,” Clark continued. “I’ve gotten heartfelt messages from members of not only the disabled community, but also from my friends in the LGBTQ community. People from all sorts of backgrounds have read it and gotten a sense of empowerment to have a conversation with their parents about what it’s like to be a minority.”
Clark saw the real-life ripple effect his poems have on the community.
“It’s very emotional for me as well because you know that your ‘suffering’ for a lack of a better word has a very real purpose and a very positive impact on the world. That’s the most beautiful thing about it, really,” he said. “Just because you were dealt a certain set of cards doesn’t mean that’s your sentence.”
The future looks bright for this young author and advocate, with his sights set on putting more work onto the shelves soon. He hopes his advocacy encourages individuals to set realistic goals for themselves to make their own dreams come true, too.
Cutline: Billy Clark, a 2019 graduate from the communications department, recently published his own collection of original poetry. Photos courtesy of Billy Clark