Last Night in L.A.

I was fortunate to be interviewed last evening by Louise Steinman at the Mark Taper Auditorium of the Los Angeles Public Library. Years ago when I was a little bit lonesome and watching “Larry King Live”–an uncharacteristic thing–I heard Paul Newman explain that he owed his entire acting career to luck. I thought of him as I sat on stage with Louise and explained my life in poetry, non-fiction writing, and civil rights work. What luck to be there in that room–how it might have been otherwise–how good people have entered my life and given me opportunities and hope. (That was Newman’s story. He shared how he was an understudy in a Tennessee Williams play on Broadway when the headlining actor fell ill. He stepped in. His career took off.) Newman never forgot that there were many other actors and actresses in his circle who had talent and never got a break. Sitting alone before my TV I wanted to hug the man for his humility.

Louise asked me about writing, trust, love, spiritual life, and we spoke about empathy and human rights. Suddenly I said: “Everyone deserves dignity and happiness.” Simple enough, right? But let’s talk about the politics of health and the necessary recognition that most human advancement has more to do with luck than Americans commonly suppose.

Many contemporary literary writers who achieve more than passing success imagine they got “there” by talent. It’s a hard position to argue against. Writing good poetry or prose requires skill to be sure–but there’s a shadow in the room like Poe’s raven, (picture wing shadows on the wall) and that’s the specter of fortune.

I know many writers of equal or greater talent than I who’ve not had the middling success I’ve enjoyed. That was the source of Paul Newman’s drive toward charity work. He saw his career as a matter of happenstance as much as anything else. I’m with him on this. I’m not gilding the Lilly of modesty. I believe what I’m saying. I wish more creative writers shared this position.

Of course I can write. Blue curtains sway above my sleep. A dream turtle drifts from under the dock and sparkles like an emerald in the unconscious. I discovered Carl Jung’s work when I was an anorexic, blind, desperately unhappy teenager. I saw how dream life is substantial and true. That was the year I found the poetry of Kenneth Rexroth. The year I took the eucharist and began eating.

Luck is the bread we break then share. You needn’t be Christian to know it.

My friend Elizabeth Aquino took this photo of Louise and I and guide dog Caitlyn at last night’s event. It was an evening of luck and emotive food to be sure:

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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 for pre-order:
Amazon
Barnes and Noble
IndieBound.org

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 

Have Dog, Will Travel: A Poet’s Journey (Simon and Schuster) Available for Pre-Order

Guide Dog “Corky” changed my life in more ways than one.  Thank you to Simon and Schuster for allowing me the opportunity to share our story.

“Never before has the subtle relationship of a blind person to a guide dog been clarified in such an entertaining way. That Stephen Kuusisto enables us to see the world through his blind eyes as well as through the ‘seeing eyes’ of his dog is this book’s amazing, paradoxical achievement.”  —Billy Collins, U.S. Poet Laureate (2001-2003)

Have Dog, Will Travel Available for Pre-order Now!

Have Dog Will Travel by Stephen Kuusisto

Overview

In a lyrical love letter to guide dogs everywhere, a blind poet shares his delightful story of how a guide dog changed his life and helped him discover a newfound appreciation for travel and independence.

Stephen Kuusisto was born legally blind—but he was also raised in the 1950s and taught to deny his blindness in order to “pass” as sighted. Stephen attended public school, rode a bike, and read books pressed right up against his nose. As an adult, he coped with his limited vision by becoming a professor in a small college town, memorizing routes for all of the places he needed to be. Then, at the age of 38, he was laid off. With no other job opportunities in his vicinity, he would have to travel to find work.

This is how he found himself at Guiding Eyes paired with a Labrador named Corky. In this vivid and lyrical memoir, Stephen Kuusisto recounts how an incredible partnership with a guide dog changed his life and the heart-stopping, wondrous adventure that began for him in midlife. Profound and deeply moving, this is a spiritual journey, the story of discovering that life with a guide dog is both a method and a state of mind.

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 professorship in the Center on Human Policy, Law, and 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 for pre-order:
Amazon
Barnes and Noble
IndieBound.org