Stephen Kuusisto’s life demonstrates the power of wringing sweet reward from the bitterness that can accompany adversity. Born three months premature and weighing just more than two pounds, Kuusisto was placed in an incubator, a new technology when he was born in 1955. It allowed him to survive, but the forced oxygen destroyed his retinas’ developing capillaries and rendered him blind. His parents taught him to “disavow” his blindness and instilled in him a lifelong determination to fight for place at the sighted table, beginning with a seat in the “normal” first-grade classroom in rural New Hampshire. As he grew up, that fighting spirit extended to all those with disabilities as he became a celebrated writer, chronicling his experiences as a blind person, and an advocate for disability, diversity, education, and public policy.
Kuusisto, a graduate of the University of Iowa’s prestigious Writer’s Workshop and a Fulbright Scholar, came to Syracuse University to direct the Renée Crown University Honors Program and is a professor of disability studies in the Center on Human Policy, Law, and Disability Studies at the School of Education. In addition to two collections of poems, he is the author of two best-selling memoirs — Planet of the Blind, named a “notable book of the year” by the New York Times, and Eavesdropping: A Memoir of Blindness and Listening. “A powerful writer with a musical ear for language and a gift for emotional candor,” wrote Michiko Kakutani in the New York Times.
Here is an excerpt from Planet of the Blind:
“Blindness is often perceived by the sighted as an either/or condition: one sees or does not see. But often a blind person experiences a series of veils: I stare at the world through smeared and broken windowpanes. Ahead of me the shapes and colors suggest the sails of Tristan’s ships or an elephant’s ear floating in air, though in reality it is a middle-aged man in a London Fog raincoat that billows behind him in the April wind. He is like the great dead Greeks in Homer’s description of the underworld. “
— Lydia Chan