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Release: Dec. 6, 1999

Ph.D. student's essay published in latest 'Chicken Soup' book

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Bill Asenjo, a brain tumor survivor and University of Iowa Ph.D. candidate, can now add another credential to his list of accomplishments: author.

"Chicken Soup for the Single's Soul: 101 Stories of Love and Inspiration for the Single, Divorced and Widowed" features an essay by Asenjo about his encounter as a youth with an 88-year-old blind man living alone in New York. The title was published in September and is the latest installment in the "Chicken Soup" series of inspirational books edited by Jack Canfield.

Asenjo, who is working on a doctorate in the UI College of Education's Rehabilitation Counselor Education program, explains in his personal essay "Seeing 20/20" that he met Charlie -- the subject of his story -- while volunteering for Lighthouse for the Blind during the 1970s. Asenjo was 23 at the time, had just moved into his first apartment, was dating "a beautiful girl" and felt on top of the world.

On the day of his first meeting with Charlie, however, Asenjo says he began regretting his decision to volunteer and grumbling about his misfortune. Charlie's apartment was located in a run-down part of Manhattan's Lower East Side and was dingy, and Charlie looked, in Asenjo's words, "older than God." But Asenjo soon learned that Charlie had lost both his wife and his sight in the previous 10 months. He had rarely left the apartment since the funeral. In spite of this, Charlie was thankful for his life.

Asenjo began visiting Charlie regularly, and the two struck up a friendship.

"The elderly blind man who had such an impact on me impressed me because in spite of losing his sight and his wife of over 50 years, he was able to keep a sense of perspective, gratitude and humor," Asenjo says. "I realized that my so-called troubles paled in comparison to his experiences."

Asenjo, 50, submitted the essay after spotting a notice in one of the online writers' newsletters to which he subscribes. It was accepted, and the publishers paid $300 for Asenjo's story. Asenjo says the essay has since been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.

The essay was not Asenjo's first writing endeavor. He has written for Personal Transformation magazine, CAREERS & disABLED magazine, Catalyst and the Green Acre News, published by the New Pioneer Co-op in Iowa City, among other publications.

Much of his writing focuses on people with disabilities and overcoming odds, which is not surprising Asenjo's personal trials and tribulations. A brain tumor made its presence known to Asenjo one evening in the spring of 1985, blinding and paralyzing him. After six surgeries -- and a bout with spinal meningitis -- doctors removed the last of the golf-ball size growth.

Since the "Chicken Soup" book came out, Asenjo says he has received several fan letters and thank-you cards.

"That's really what it's all about anyway -- hopefully helping others to see how worthwhile helping others can be, maybe warming someone's heart as others have mine," he says. "I didn't write it for the money. That's just icing."