Just for the Books

IMG 2248

On Wednesday last, April 11, I had the privilege of reading from my new memoir Have Dog, Will Travel: A Poet’s Journey  at Gramercy Books  in Columbus, Ohio. Gramercy’s owner, Linda Kass took this terrific photo of the event. I’m standing in front of a good sized audience, my purple sweater covered with dog hair, and I appear to be just about to make an extravagant gesture with my hand, like the opera tenor I’d really like to be….

As I’ve said before on my blog, I adore independent book stores. People come there for the books. They really do. Oh they might get a frou frou coffee, some poodle-ish beverage, but for Indie shoppers that’s just “value added” as they say in marketing circles. Customers who shop in independent book stores are drawn by words, intuitions, giddiness, mystery, fantasy, Dostoevsky, or “news that stays news” as Ezra Pound once said, describing why poetry matters.

You can’t tell from this photo but there are several guide dog users at the event. And puppy raisers from Guiding Eyes for the Blind.

What could be better than books and dogs, and lots of readers?

Stephen Kuusisto and HarleyABOUT: Stephen Kuusisto is the author of the memoirs Have Dog, Will Travel; Planet of the Blind (a New York Times “Notable Book of the Year”); and Eavesdropping: A Memoir of Blindness and Listening and of the poetry collections Only Bread, Only Light and Letters to Borges. A graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and a Fulbright Scholar, he has taught at the University of Iowa, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, and Ohio State University. He currently teaches at Syracuse University where he holds a University Professorship in Disability Studies. He is a frequent speaker in the US and abroad. His website is StephenKuusisto.com.

Have Dog, Will Travel: A Poet’s Journey is now available:
Grammercy Books
Barnes and Noble

Have Dog, Will Travel by Stephen Kuusisto

(Photo picturing the cover of Stephen Kuusisto’s new memoir “Have Dog, Will Travel” along with his former guide dogs Nira (top) and Corky, bottom.) Bottom photo by Marion Ettlinger 

Yes, There's a Dog in My Heart…

If there’s a dog in your heart it will do you no damage. While still at Guiding Eyes I’d kept a journal—titled “Dog Man Writes to Parts of Himself”…

If there's a dog in your heart it will do no damage.

Read: Dog in Heart, an excerpt from my upcoming book, as seen on my website: StephenKuusisto.com. Then tell me, is there a dog in YOUR heart?

Professor Stephen Kuusisto is the author of Eavesdropping: A Memoir of Blindness and Listening” and the acclaimed memoir Planet of the Blind, a New York Times “Notable Book of the Year”. His second collection of poems from Copper Canyon Press, “Letters to Borges has just been released. Listen to Steve read "Letter to Borges in His Parlor" in this fireside reading via YouTube. He is currently working on a book tentatively titled What a Dog Can Do. Steve speaks widely on diversity, disability, education, and public policy. www.stephenkuusisto.com, www.planet-of-the-blind.com

Thank you, Guiding Eyes

Back in 1998 a book reviewer at The Boston Globe suggested that I am a shill for the guide dog schools. What he meant is that my first book of nonfiction is richly devoted to sharing the experience of training with my first guide dog “Corky”—a life changing event for me and the glue that holds together my book.
I didn’t mind being called a shill. I’ve been called worse.

Today as I was walking in the Iowa snow with my third dog from Guiding Eyes I remembered that old Steve Martin joke where he says to his audience “I want to thank each and every one of you” Then he proceeds to say over and over: “Thank you thank you thank you thank you” etc.

Occupied in this way it dawned on me that Guiding Eyes for the Blind is worthy of every thank you I could pronounce. Guide dogs are expensive creatures to breed, raise, train, and then pair with a blind person. Despite the fact that each dog and person team costs well over 40,000 dollars to create, Guiding Eyes absorbs all the costs through its non-profit program of charitable donations.

I am a comparatively lucky blind person. I have a good job and a wonderful wife and family. Yet I can assure you that if I had to pony up 40K for my street mobility would be very hard pressed indeed. This in turn gets me to my point. Some will doubtless think of me as being too sentimental. Thanking those who have helped you is perhaps, in the minds of some “too old fashioned” or “too caught up in the charity model of disability”.

I believe that as I walk safely and in most cases euphorically that I have a big team behind me. Donors, puppy raisers, puppy breeders, veterinarians, fund raisers, construction and buildings and grounds personnel, volunteers, guide dog trainers, orientation and mobility specialists, dietitians, nurses, folks who work in the kennels, and the blind men and women who have trained alongside me with their new dogs.

Today, walking in the snow I heard in memory the voice of Steve Martin thanking everybody.


These Boots are Made for Walkin'

My new guide dog "Nira" has been navigating the campus of the University of Iowa and she’s been sporting her red, velcro and nylon snow boots. Today’s guide dogs are trained to tolerate footwear since icy sidewalks are often covered with corrosive salts and chemicals that can harm feet. Obviously the sight of a big yellow Labrador in harness trotting along with her red booties is remarkable, particularly for college students who are delighted as Nira prances down the sidewalk like a circus pony. It has been below zero in Iowa all this week and the doggy boots have been valuable as we’ve marched along the banks of the frozen Iowa River. I hope to have some photos to share with you soon.  Avanti!



View this slideshow created at One True Media

Click the link above for some great photos of Steve and guide dog "Nira".  Photo credits go to Graham Buck of Guiding Eyes for the Blind.  Graham, we’re delighted with the photos and again, thanks for the walk down memory lane!

~ Connie

Photo descriptions: The photo link above shows yellow Labrador, Nira, guiding Steve down the sidewalk.  Open the link and there are several photos of Steve and Nira doing obedience, as well as several photos of their working together "in harness".

Don't Sentimentalize Your Dog

Yesterday without warning I was laid low by a 24 hour intestinal virus. I will say no more. But lying there in my fever and chills I found, all of a sudden, my new guide dog Nira was halfway up on my bed and licking my face. "Hey Pal," she almost seemed to say , "Why are you so negligent? You could be going places with me."

I’m not one of those dog sentimentalists who believes his dog was checking to see if I had a pulse. Nira was bored and she was letting me know about it. I was the only game in town and the game wasn’t going so well.

Later, as the chills got worse and I lay quaking under several blankets I was deeply grateful for Nira’s top notch training. She lay on her bed and worked on her dog bone and stopped worrying about me.

That’s the point of course. Sometimes we need to be worried over and sometimes we don’t. The guide dogs at Guiding Eyes are self reliant and confident. Nira had been hoping I would get to my feet and go someplace with her. When she saw that this wasn’t in the works she was able to find her own place of contentment.

Of course today when we went out again she was moving like a rocket sled. It’s good to be back.



My Dynamic Duo

Here they are, Steve and "Nira" –  stepping lively.

Once they’re home, I’ll be jogging behind just to keep up!   ~ Connie


P.S.  Thanks to Graham Buck, of Guiding Eyes for the Blind, for the photos.

Photo description: yellow Labrador, Nira, is in harness and guiding Steve down the sidewalk.

Blind Date

Here she is.  "Nira".  Steve’s ultimate blind date.


Photo description: Nira, a yellow Labrador, is in a down position.  She and Steve are doing obedience.  Although we can’t see Steve, we can see the leash he’s holding attached to Nira’s collar.  She is looking up in his direction.  It’s a great head shot, compliments of Graham Buck of Guiding Eyes for the Blind.

Dog Day Afternoon

I am pleased to announce that my new guide dog is "Nira"–a female yellow Labrador. I will be meeting her for the first time in about ten minutes.

All I know for sure is that she’s a tall, fast, and poised guide dog.

I feel a little like an adoptive parent waiting in the anteroom of the orphanage. Or maybe I feel a little like a Sweepstakes winner.

One thing’s for sure: I feel very lucky to be making her acquaintance.


Make It Strong, Please.

Over breakfast at Guiding Eyes I hear assorted stories about blindness.  How often one hears the refrain: "My eye doctor said, well now you’re blind, go home, there’s nothing more we can do for you."  I think that the national ophthalmologic societies should be having breakfast at the guide dog school.  Blindness isn’t a calamity unless the "professionals" make it so.  I drink coffee with people who have recently lost their eye sight and I’m reminded all over again just how clotted and befuddled our "normative" society is when it comes to blindness or disability in general.  Good God.  You’d think that these ophthalmologists are getting their scripts for communicating with their patients from Victorian novels. "I’m sorry but you’ve been struck blind by a force mightier than humankind.  You must now go and wander the forests of Germany." 

Thank the Lord there’s strong coffee here at Guiding Eyes.