The Afflicted: Kathi Wolfe, 55, a Falls Church-based freelance writer and poet who’s been legally blind since birth.
Diagnosis: Idol strain. “Like everybody, I grew up reading about Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan,” says Wolfe. “But like a lot of women who grow up visually impaired, I always felt like I was under Helen’s shadow, because she’s seen as a saint, while I was just a regular person.”
Symptoms: Blurred perceptions. For Wolfe, blindness isn’t an impediment to her work; being identified as a “blind person” can be. “My biggest obstacle is dealing with people’s attitudes toward the disabled,” she says. “It’s a whole spectrum of responses. There are people who have a stigma against you. There are people who tell you you’re ‘inspirational.’ There are people who pity you.” Once, in a writing workshop, another participant told Wolfe that he “just doesn’t associate blind people with poetry.” “That really made me angry,” says Wolfe.
Treatment: Project a new vision. Wolfe spent some time studying Keller’s experiences as an author and activist and found that she weathered some misconceptions of her own. When Wolfe learned of Keller’s radical past as a socialist feminist, “I identified with her a lot more,” she says. Last spring, Pudding House Press published Wolfe’s chapbook of poems written from Keller’s perspective called Helen Takes The Stage: The Helen Keller Poems. “I wrote the poems because I wanted to reveal her inner life,” says Wolfe. “I have a small hope to see that seeing her as a flesh-and-blood human being—who wasn’t totally saintly but wasn’t incapable either—might help change how people see the rest of us.”
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