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An Interview with Kim Nielsen, Editor of Helen Keller: Selected Writings

1. Why did you become interested in Helen Keller?

Years ago, wasting time in a library one day, I came across a list of the most dangerous women in America according to an antiradical organization of the 1920s. Keller featured prominently on the list! All I knew of her was The Miracle Worker version of her life, and I wanted to know more.

2. Which is your favorite letter in this book?

In October 1912 Keller wrote one of her rare letters to Anne Macy. In it she likened herself to Anne of R.L. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables (1908): "I recognize in her nearly all my faults and deficiencies, most of my moods, impulses and secret thoughts. She is a great trial to others in the same way that I am, speaking in large terms. Like me she takes the joys and sorrows of life tremendously, and like me she has a passion for everything which 'gives scope for imagination.'" Perhaps because I had just finished Anne of Green Gables when first reading this letter, the sincerity and humor of this letter fascinates me.

For completely different reasons, I also appreciate the 1948 letter written after Keller left Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The visits clearly jolted her psychological equilibrium. In the letters she wrestles with the larger meanings and implications of the bombings for herself, for Japan, and for the United States.

3. Which of Keller's publications included here do you enjoy the most?

Definitely Helen Keller's Journal (1938), because of its brutal honesty and rough edges. This is one of those books that an author would return to ten years later and regret writing. The almost daily chronicle of Keller's raw anguish after Anne Macy's death is painful. Despite of, or perhaps because of, the book's pain and its lack of polish or editing, Keller's strong character shines through in this book.

I also enjoy Keller's 1913 essay "Blind Leaders." Though awkward because of its rhetorical use of blindness to represent a lack of understanding, the essay is witty and the political commentary sharp. In this essay Keller states some of her clearest, most emphatic, and most controversial political opinions.

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