A Book Review by Steve O'Keefe
Executive Director of the Staunton Media Lab
Out of the Dark: Essays, Letters, and Addresses on Physical and Social Vision
by Helen Keller
Kessinger Publishing Rare Reprints
ISBN 1437234704, 282 pages, hardcover
Originally published in 1920 by Doubleday, Page & Company
Picture of Helen Keller in 1920 courtesy Wikimedia Commons
If you only know Helen Keller as the deaf blind girl who learns language at the water pump, you don't know Helen Keller. That willful little girl grew up into a willful woman suffragette who spoke with her hands loudly enough to be heard around the world. This book reveals the hidden side of Helen Keller which has nearly been erased from history.
The Miracle Worker is the name of a book, a play and movie about the young Helen Keller. The miracle worker of the title is not Helen Keller but her teacher, Anne Sullivan, who taught Keller to finger spell and sign, and to write and read Braille. Sullivan was herself blind for a number of years but regained her sight. The Miracle Worker doesn't tell what happened after Helen Keller learned to read.
The Wikipedia version of the Helen Keller story is that she went on to graduate from college, became an advocate for the blind and eventually a much-loved worldwide ambassador for the disabled. The hidden story is quite a bit different.
I had heard that Helen Keller had become a radical Socialist firebrand who was a thorn in the side of several U.S. Presidents. I had heard that she wrote books later in life that were banned and are now unavailable. I searched online and only found hints about Helen Keller's Socialist writings. One day, passing through Alabama for the 45th time, I decided to visit the Helen Keller Home at Ivy Green -- including the famous water pump where she learned to talk using the tingling of her palms -- and to find out more about these forbidden texts.
I should have known it was a fool's errand. Tuscumbia, Alabama, is not the place one would expect to find works by the beloved matriarch of the disabled on the subjects of economics, politics and the labor struggle. Let me make this shockingly clear: The Helen Keller Home does not display any of the books Helen Keller wrote herself, except for The Story of My Life, which was co-written by Keller and Anne Sullivan while Keller was in college. The only books in the Helen Keller Home gift shop and book store are by other people, such as The Miracle Worker, and books about her interpreters, Anne Sullivan (until 1936) and Polly Thompson (until 1960). Keller died in 1968 at the age of 88, outliving both her beloved companions.