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Kuusisto will read from memoir about accepting blindness Jan. 26 at UI

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- University of Iowa Writers' Workshop alumnus Stephen Kuusisto will read from "Planet of the Blind," his new memoir about the process of coming to terms with his blindness, at 8 p.m. Monday, Jan. 26, in the Prairie Lights bookstore at 15 S. Dubuque St. in downtown Iowa City.

The free reading will be broadcast live as part of the "Live at Prairie Lights" series, originating on WSUI, 910 AM, and hosted by Julie Englander.

Writing in the Dec. 23, 1997, New York Times, critic Michiko Kakutani called Kuusisto's book a "luminous new memoir": "He is a powerful writer with a musical ear for language and a gift for emotional candor. He has written a book that makes the reader understand the terrifying experience of blindness and that stands on its own as the lyrical memoir of a poet."

Nancy Margolis wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle: "Historically, the blind have been endowed with divine judgment and magical power. Kuusisto is a bearer of such insight and enchantment."

Kuusisto lost most of his sight as an infant, when an over-oxygenated incubator caused permanent damage to his retinas. But for the first 39 years of his life -- through a combination of determination, cleverness, memory and recklessness -- he persisted in denial of his disability. With 20/200 vision in his better eye, he could read only by holding a book an inch from his face and with the use of magnifying glasses, and yet he attended the Writers' Workshop and won a Fulbright Fellowship.

Only after a freak accident further damaged his better eye -- it was accidentally sliced by a bookmark -- did Kuusisto finally accept his condition. He now has a guide-dog companion, Corky, and with canine assistance has begun a new chapter of life. He says of Corky, "We're a great match because we both love the intensity of the work and yet we're both voluptuaries who like to snuggle on Sunday and listen to Mozart."

Of his intentions in writing the memoir, Kuusisto has said, "It's my hope that my book will inspire others in the blind community to tell their stories. I believe that the lives of blind men and women are steep and often brilliant. I'd like the sighted community to know that blind people are just like everyone else -- that they don't bite, they're not hopeless, and that the planet of the blind can be a beautiful and empathetic place, an instructive world."