Name: Belo Cipriani
City: San Francisco
Position: Author, journalist, SFGate “Get to Work” blogger
J.: How did your first book, “Blind: A Memoir” in 2011, come to be?
Belo Cipriani: After being rehabilitated, learning braille, adaptive technology and receiving my first guide dog, I went to graduate school for my writing degree. I was tired of the inaccurate portrayals of the blind in books and movies, and wanted to do something about it. I think writing became a sort of therapy for me. I think one of the attributes to my positive attitude is that I poured all my feelings, both good and bad, onto the page. When I finished my memoir, I began to feel free. On the day my book was published, I forgave my attackers.
J.: Your attackers? Is that how you lost your sight?
BC: At 26, I was assaulted by a group of gay men in the Castro District. These guys were at one point my best friends growing up. We were like brothers but had drifted over time. When I first stumbled upon them, I was happy to see them. They greeted me with insults and instantly jumped me — my face was their main target. Although I had many eye surgeries, they all failed and I was left blind.
J.: Your latest book, “Midday Dreams,” was published in September. What’s it about?
BC: It’s a story about a Portuguese family that is faced with financial problems and is considering leaving their homeland for America. In the middle of all the chaos, it’s discovered that one of the uncles is gay. The story follows the journey of family matriarch, Izabel, who has a strong reaction to the realization of her brother’s homosexuality and who his so-called friend really is.
J.: What inspired the story?
BC: When I first visited the Azores [Portuguese islands in the Atlantic] before I lost my sight, I fell in love with the rich scenery and the culture that was part of my grandparents’ lives. I wanted to share some of this in a gay context that was positive and uplifting.
J.: Was it your grandparents who introduced you to your Jewish heritage?
BC: My grandparents left Italy after World War II for South America, and I attended shul with them in Brazil when I was little. I remember my mom lighting the Shabbat candles, circling the candles with her hands, then covering her eyes with her hands. These are the first memories I have where I was conscious of heritage, and this comes from my mom.
I recently attended a Shabbat service at Congregation Sha’ar Zahav, and although it had been some time since I’d been to shul, it didn’t just feel homey, it felt complete. I feel very fortunate to be part of such a rich and ancient culture.
J.: In one piece, you wrote about your mom’s Hanukkah menorah.
BC: When my mom passed away she made sure that I got our family’s menorah. It’s a piece of my family’s history; it means so much to have it with me now.
J.: Your blog, excerpts from your books and some of your other writings are at www.belocipriani.com. Many of them are about disability issues. Can you talk about this?
BC: I think what the public knows about disability is very limited. People don’t know that people with disabilities have careers, friends, children. People with disabilities can be inspirational, and more importantly, they can be successful. People with disabilities make the largest minority group, but we’re not part of the popular culture.
J.: What are some of the challenges you face in dating without sight?
BC: My blindness pushes me to look for dates at events or clubs. Many popular websites don’t work well with my adaptive technology, and in person I can gauge a lot more. When I had vision, I liked guys with dark features, but now that doesn’t matter. I would really like to find a nice Jewish boy, just like my mom wanted for me.
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