Interview with the Author
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
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.
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
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
and one of his poems now, and order When I Am Dead
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.
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
or by mail. For online orders,
type “FEB0720%” in the “Comments or Special
Instructions” box below your credit card information.
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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