Rosie Sultan: Helen Keller's Secret Love Life

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Rosie Sultan earned her MFA at Goddard College and won a PEN Discovery Award for fiction, on the nomination of historian Howard Zinn. A former fellow at The Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, she has taught writing at Boston University, the University of Massachusetts, and Suffolk University in Boston. Her short story “Blue is Your Color, Dear” appeared in Other Voices. She lives with her husband and son in Brookline, Massachusetts.

I've been fascinated by Helen Keller since I read my first slim paperback about her when I was a child, and I've read most everything about her since. I've seen the movie The Miracle Worker more times than I can count, and still feel the emotional wallop of the dining room scene: you remember the one -- a young Helen fights her new teacher Anne Sullivan tooth and nail in the Keller family dining room in Alabama, and amidst broken crockery and smashed plates Helen finally, finally succumbs to Anne's demands that she eat from a plate....

So I can't tell you my surprise -- no, maybe shock -- when I picked up a new biography of Helen a few years back. I was startled to read in it a short chapter -- maybe six pages long -- that while in her thirties Helen had a love affair, became secretly engaged, and defied her teacher and family by trying to elope with the man she loved.

"What?" I put the book down and thought. "Helen Keller had a love affair?" I, like many people, had not really thought of her as a woman -- with normal romantic and carnal desires.

I shut the book and knew one thing: There was a story there. A big story. And I was on my way to writing my novel, Helen Keller In Love, where I imagine the love story Helen Keller could not -- or would not -- tell....

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