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Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Resilient Author Reaches Career Milestones Despite Disability

Shelia E. Bell, a resident of Colorado, displays a combination of intelligence and a winning attitude in the face of adversity. National Book Month— a month-long celebration drawing attention to the value of reading, writing and literature—is held each October. Matters of the pen are Bell’s specialties. The editor and professional writer has penned 39 books and counting. Bell primarily writes women’s fiction but has created young adult and nonfiction works as well.

The national bestselling author’s career has included sharing self-publishing and traditionally published books with the world. However, Bell’s personal story has another layer. She recalls growing up in Memphis, Tennessee battling polio and scoliosis.

(Group Photo): Shelia E. Bell, (middle), is an author residing in Colorado who has written 39 books and counting. She grew up in Memphis, Tennessee battling polio and scoliosis. Bell, a professional writer of 23 years, previously gave back to the community while promoting literacy.  Along with a team of people who shared her vision to create a literacy festival in Tennessee, Bell’s first Black Writers and Book Clubs (BWABC) Literacy festival was held in September 2012. Left to right, BWABC team members include the late Jacquelyn Currie; Cathy Jones; Regina Dobbins; Delores Freeman; and Tasha Parker.
Photo credit: Kevin Gray 

“I contracted polio at the age of two after having undergone open heart surgery six months prior. To this day, I cannot specifically say how I contracted it. Doctors seem to think it could have come from me drinking contaminated, unpasteurized milk. That has not been proven,” Bell said. “Having polio has taught me how to persevere. It has instilled in me a sense of courage. It has given me life lessons on how to be bold, to stop at nothing, to keep on keeping on.”

According to The Global Polio Eradication Initiative, a public-private partnership that is led by national governments with six partners that includes the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), polio (poliomyelitis) is a highly

infectious disease caused by a virus. It invades the nervous system and may cause irreversible paralysis in mere hours. Information provided by The Global Polio Eradication Initiative also pointed out that polio can strike at any age, but it primarily affects children under five years old.

Shelia E. Bell at the age of six.  
(Photo courtesy of Shelia E. Bell)

The topic of polio recently resurfaced in the United States. New York State’s Department of Health reported that by September 23, 2022, sequencing analysis provided by the CDC “confirmed the presence of poliovirus in a total of 69 positive samples of concern” in wastewater.

The incidence of polio was regarded differently when Bell was being reared in the South during the days of segregation. She witnessed how differently she and her mother were treated when she was taken to clinics and doctors. Part of Bell’s experience included having to enter separate spaces and rooms because of her race. Bell’s confidence grew despite it all.

“In school, I thought and believed I could do anything the other kids could do. I was bullied, teased, poked at, made fun of, but through it all I kept forging ahead,” Bell said.

The professional writer of 23 years mentioned that she sometimes gets tired of putting on her leg braces and walking with crutches, but she knows that along with her power chair, these tools assist her to be independent while working on achieving new goals.

“I dream of seeing my books turned into TV shows. I have dreams to be on the New York Times best sellers list. I have dreams of seeing my books in audio,” Bell said.

Life’s twists have not hindered Bell from being a trailblazer. After observing how illiteracy can negatively affect a community, she came up with the idea of having a one-time festival that would promote and support literacy one community at a time.

“Being a writer, I felt it was almost useless and senseless for me to write all these fascinating stories if people were unable to read them due to the rising illiteracy rate and the fact the need for reading was not being enforced as it should,’” Bell said.

Along with a team of seven people who shared her vision for promoting literacy, the first Black Writers and Book Clubs (BWABC) Literacy festival was held in September 2012.

“The festival continued for the next five years in Memphis, Tennessee. During this time, we also became a nonprofit. We went into schools to read to children and share the importance of being able to read with comprehension,” Bell said.

Hundreds of successful African American authors traveled to Memphis from across the country annually through BWABC. Bell currently stays busy honoring her love of writing. Self-publishing affords her a less stressful career, yet Bell enjoys being traditionally published, too.

“Receiving a five-figure book deal was an amazing accomplishment. I felt at the time that it verified me and made me a legitimate ‘real author.’ It also made me realize I could accomplish whatever I put my mind to,” Bell said.

The writer offered thoughts about how she would like people to remember children and adults with disabilities.

“What I want people to remember is we are each unique,” Bell said. “Treat everyone with respect and dignity.”

Visit www.sheliawritesbooks.com for more information about Bell.

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