By
Belo Cipriani & Marissa Nasiatka

Our Interview with Belo Cipriani

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Image of a Guatemalan man wearing a blue collared shirt with the top button open with his sleeves rolled half way up his arms. He is wearing a black vest over his shirt and black pants . He is sitting on cement staircase that is lined with beautiful and flourishing pink flowers. The stairs have bamboo bars in the middle of them and each stairs flows doen with water over the bamboo bars. The water flows down into a small pool. He is sitting with a large black dog with floppy ears on his lap.

Belo Miguel Cipriani is an American writer, publisher, and entrepreneur in the Twin Cities of Minnesota. He is the founder of Oleb Media, a digital inclusion firm, and the disability publishing house Oleb Books. He is also a disability and LGBTQ+ advocate. .In the spring of 2007, Belo Cipriani was brutally assaulted and robbed a group of former friends in San Francisco's Castro District.  He was kicked in the face repeatedly. One of those devastating blows went directly into his eyes, leaving Belo blind at the age of twenty-six. 

Belo is the author of Blind: A Memoir (2011), which chronicles the two years immediately following his assault. He received an Honorable Mention for Best Nonfiction Book by the 2011 Rainbow Awards, and an Honorable Mention for Best Culture Book by the 2012 Eric Hoffer Awards. 

He has received fellowships from Lambda Literary and Yaddo, and was the first blind writer to attend the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. Cipriani has guest lectured at Yale University, University of San Francisco, and University of Wisconsin at Whitewater, and was the Writer-in-Residence at Holy Names University from 2012 to 2016.

His writing has appeared in several publications, including the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, San Francisco Chronicle, Houston Chronicle, San Antonio Express-News, Business Insider, and HuffPost. He was a contributor to the Ed Baxter Morning Show on iHeart Radio, and was also a frequent commentator on San Francisco’s KGO Radio, as well as on several NPR shows. He also has a column on disability issues that was recognized by the National Center on Disability and Journalism at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University.

Belo has received numerous awards for his disability advocacy work, including being named “Best Disability Advocate” by SF Weekly (2015), an “Agent of Change” by HuffPost (2015), and an “ABC7 Star” by KGO-TV (2016). He was also honored as the first blind Grand Marshal at San Francisco’s 45th Annual Gay Pride Parade.

He lives in St. Louis Park, Minnesota with his partner, James, and his guide dog, Oslo.

Interviewed by our Different & Able President and Founder, Alexandra Nicklas, Belo shares his story about the harrowing night which took away his eyesight. He also discusses the mission and purpose of his companies Oleb Books and Oleb Media, how he is the spokesperson for Guide Dogs for the Blind, finding inspiration to write his memoir, and  his role as a disability and LGBTQ+ advocate. “People with disabilities, at the end of the day, are just like everybody else,” Bello quotes. “We have desires, dreams and goals. We also have fears. The only difference is we negotiate life differently, but that doesn’t mean that our lives are any less valid.”

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