Josh Swiller
Author and Activist

Josh Swiller has been a hospice worker, a Peace Corps volunteer, a forest ranger, a sheepskin craftsman, an internationally recognized advocate, a raw food chef and a Zen monk, among other things.  He has also been deaf since the age of four.  Currently, he works at Gallaudet University, where he is leading the effort to secure more attention, care and understanding for the tens of thousands of young veterans returning from courageous service in Iraq and Afghanistan with severe hearing loss.  He also runs Access International Foundation, which strives to improve the support and visibility of the deaf and disabled throughout the world.
The Unheard, Josh’s memoir of growing up deaf and living for two years in a rural African Village beset with contagious disease, endemic corruption and witchcraft, as well as an appalling lack of toilet paper has been lauded for its compassion, humor, and literary skill.  It was a New York Times bestseller and has been optioned for a movie.
In his speeches, Josh shares from his many experiences – anecdotes that range from outright hysterical (being sued in tribal court for virginity theft) to terrifying (being sued in court for virginity theft).  He reflects on all his journeys — not just the ones to five continents but also those through varied and unexpected sense worlds (once deaf, he now hears remarkably well through a computer implanted in his skull).  He takes a hard look at the plight of the hundreds of millions of deaf and disabled around the world – how they are seen and not-seen in various cultures.  He maps strategies for improving their situations, concentrating on day-to-day, here-and-now steps we can take to create a more accepting and compassionate world.  All this is done with humor and compassion, which touches on the core of Josh’s message–one rooted in years of monastic spiritual practice.
It is not our disabilities or even our abilities that define us, or our defeats or our victories, but something that goes deeper.  The economic tsunami may have cut the legs off our retirement funds, our kids may come home with inexplicable facial piercings and an unshakeable conviction that we have ruined their lives before they even got started, and our spouses may never seem to appreciate all that we do for them – at these moments it may seem that life is a thankless, brutal slog.  But it most definitely is not.  There are blessings and treasures everywhere, in every single situation.
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The Unheard
A Memoir of Deafness and Africa
Holt Paperbacks

A young man’s quest to reconcile his deafness in an unforgiving world leads to a remarkable sojourn in a remote African village that pulsates with beauty and...

Becoming That You Seek: Drawing on personal experience in the developing world and in hospice work and on varied ancient spiritual traditions, Josh offers lessons on finding grace and fulfillment even in the midst of the hardest situations.
The Fate of Africa: What is it? And why should we care? Again drawing on his experiences traveling and living in the developing world, Josh presents an intriguing lecture focusing on cultural dissonances, individual peccadilloes and their impact on development work, fantastic historical failures in the field, and inspiring successes and the lessons we can draw from them.
Deafness and Disability: When it comes to being judged “deficient” by a culture, what is reality and what is perception? What do our judgments say about us and where can wholeness be found? And what is the effect of rapidly advancing technological, genetic and medical treatments on all of this?

Praise for The Unheard

“Josh Swiller was 22 and profoundly deaf when he applied to the Peace Corps in search of adventure. And indeed, adventure he found. His experiences in Zambia are eloquently recounted in his hard-to-put-down memoir of deafness and Africa, “The Unheard””
—The New York Times, Health section

"Several ingredients are crucial in a memoir like this: humor, the ability to see enough details to make the scene come alive and a dispassionate compassion. Swiller has them all."
—Los Angeles Times

"[Swiller's] appealing, intelligent narrative serves both as a coming of age story and as a penetrating light into one corner of a tormented continent."
—Washington Post

“Josh Swiller rewrites the familiar African narrative with a purity that makes the tragic beauty of that devastated continent a stunning novelty for readers. We experience the rich, tangible passions of love, honor and revenge in Africa, amplified a thousandfold in the quiet world of the deaf.”
—New York Observer