Gallaudet University Press

Interview with the Author

Georgina Kleege
Author, Blind Rage

GUPress: In your book, you say your views and feelings about Helen Keller have changed. What was it about Helen Keller that brought about this change?

Georgina Kleege: As I say at the beginning of Blind Rage, I grew up despising Helen Keller. I despised her because I felt she was held up to me as a role model, but one I could not possibly hope to emulate. She was both deaf and blind and yet managed to learn to communicate, graduated from Radcliffe, published books and articles, and had a career as a public figure long before any of this was thought possible. Most galling, she did all this with unrelenting cheerfulness. She never complained, never made others feel guilty that she was disabled and they were not, never spoke of discrimination or exclusion. As a blind child, I felt the message was that if I couldn’t be as successful as she was it must mean I wasn’t trying hard enough.

As an adult, I began to think that maybe I had been unfair to Helen Keller. Perhaps it was wrong to hold her responsible for the use others made of her life story. So I made a concerted effort to learn more about her life, not just the Helen Keller myth. I read all the biographies about her that I could find. And I read her own extensive autobiographical work. What I found was a much more complex human being than I had previously imagined.

GUPress: In your description of Helen Keller, you described the constraints she was under. Do you think these constraints have changed for Deaf-Blind people today?

Georgina Kleege: Of course, there have been many technological changes in the decades since Helen Keller died. I like to imagine what she would have done with a computer with a refreshable Braille display, and other assistive technologies that Deaf-Blind people have today. On the other hand, she enjoyed many advantages because she was such a celebrity. For instance, she had an extraordinary Braille library. Most of her books were brailled by volunteers around the world who had read about Helen Keller and wanted to do something to help her.

But I think she was under other constraints. I think there were times in her life that she felt unable to express her opinions as freely as she would have liked. I think she worried that when she expressed controversial opinions on such topics as women’s suffrage, workers’ rights, world politics, and so forth, it might affect her ability to book lecture tours, or publish her writing, and so could affect her livelihood.

GUPress: Helen Keller died in 1968. Do you ever regret not having the opportunity to meet her in person?

Georgina Kleege: If you had asked the question before I wrote Blind Rage my answer would have been “No! I’m glad I never met her.” Now, I’m not so sure. Although I’ve come to understand her better and to have a better sense of why she made many of the choices and compromises that she did, I’m still not sure that we would like each other. For instance, if she were here today, I don’t know if she would like the book. She might appreciate the fact that I tried to create a sense of her as a full-fledged human being rather than merely an inspirational icon. I don’t think she actually liked that role. But she would probably resent the fact that I sometimes take liberties with the facts of her life. I would argue that I do this to point out the limits of the public image she felt compelled to preserve. I think we might have a pretty lively debate about this. What ever you want to say about Helen Keller, she was a very intelligent person. She like to debate ideas and to explore others’ opinions. So I can imagine having a heated discussion with her. I think we would end up respecting each other even though we might not agree about everything.


9:2 Wednesday, March 21, 2007

From Horned Toads to Father Pumpkin

The Sixth Volume in the Gallaudet Classics in Deaf Studies Series Showcases Select Prose

When I Am Dead: The Writings of George M. Teegarden, Volume Six in the Gallaudet Classics in Deaf Studies series, presents a selection of Teegarden’s best stories and poems. Teegarden taught for 48 years at the Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf. While teaching there, he recognized the need for accessible English stories that could be easily understood by the deaf students to improve their literacy. To fulfill this need, he adapted fables and traditional stories in such a way that they could be transliterated fluidly into American Sign Language. He also wrote a great deal of poetry that was published with some of his stories in the school’s newspaper The Western Pennsylvanian.

At his death in November 1936, the Wilkinsburg [Pennsylvania] Gazette best summarized his life by stating: “He was the author of several textbooks and was a recognized leader among the deaf nationally. Mr. Teegarden was a poet of unusual ability, his poems portraying a keen appreciation of the beauties of nature and a rare love of home and friends. Some of his sweetest poems were those he wrote in the last of the eighty-four years of his life. Quiet and unassuming, Mr. Teegarden lived unostentatiously, loved most by those who knew him best.”

Read one of George M. Teegarden’s stories and one of his poems now, and order When I Am Dead online or by mail at a savings of 20% off the regular price. For online orders, type “FEB0720%” in the “Comments or Special Instructions” box below your credit card information.

This current time is a critical moment internationally in the field of deafness. In 1998, the minimum age for cochlear implantation dropped to 18 months, and to 12 months the following year. Today, babies as young as five months are now being implanted. As the age of implantation has dropped, the number of implant recipients has continued to soar. In Surgical Consent: Bioethics and Cochlear Implantation, edited by Linda Komesaroff, renowned ethicists, educators, and Deaf leaders express their views on the bioethics of cochlear implantation of children.

The opening chapter by Paddy Ladd unpacks the ways in which Deafness has been constructed by the dominant society and situates cochlear implants within broader social contexts. In chapter 2, Harlan Lane develops a robust argument for the recognition of Deaf ethnicity and the Deaf world by deconstructing (and debunking) the medicalized view of deaf people as members of a disability group. In chapter 3, volume editor Linda Komesaroff presents a comprehensive analysis of the media representation of cochlear implants from articles that appeared in the daily press in the first decade of media exposure. Chapters 4 and 5 deal with issues of medical ethics and legal rights. In chapter 5, Eithne Mills considers the interaction between medicine and the law in cases related to medical intervention. Chapters 6, 7, and 8 relate to deaf children’s psychological, social, and educational development. In the final two chapters in this volume, Paal Richard Peterson questions how Deaf people’s freedom of speech can be secured given that cochlear implants do not provide recipients with perfect hearing, and Karen Lloyd and Michael Uniacke present their accumulated sixty years of experience mixing with other deaf and hard of hearing people.”

You can view the table of contents, the list of contributors, and read the editor’s introduction now. Order Surgical Consent today, and save 20% off the regular price online or by mail. For online orders, type “FEB0720%” in the “Comments or Special Instructions” box below your credit card information.

The Gallaudet University Press Institute’s sixth international conference, 150 Years on Kendall Green: Celebrating Deaf History and Gallaudet, will be held on April 11–13, 2007, at the Kellogg Conference Hotel at Gallaudet University, Washington, D.C. Along with keynote presenters James M. McPherson, Paddy Ladd, and I. King Jordan, the conference will feature many other respected scholars who, together, promise to offer an insightful foray into the remarkable history of the founding of Kendall Green and its growth into the most important university for Deaf people worldwide. Haven’t registered yet? Go online to http://gupress.gallaudet.edu/gupiconference/index.html for more information.

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