How Did Helen Keller Write Books?

Helen Keller who appears in the motion picture "Deliverance" based on her life of darkness

Helen Keller is a household name.

In school, you may have been assigned to read Helen's autobiography The Story of My Life or watch the movie The Miracle Worker. No matter what assignment you were given, I bet you never forgot the real life tale of a young girl who learned to read and write despite deaf-blindness. 

If you haven't read her book or seen the movie, it’s not too late!  Helen Keller’s heroic story is a timeless tale of determination, will power and defying all odds.

You might be wondering, how did Helen Keller write books? Especially because she couldn’t see or hear!

  • Did you know...
  • Helen Keller wrote 12 books?
  • Helen Keller was accused of plagiarism? 
  • Helen Keller was the first deaf-blind person to graduate from college?

In this guide we will dive deep into the fascinating story of Helen Keller and how she became a prolific writer despite her disabilities. We will learn her origin story, how she wrote books and why personal perseverance is the key to achievable dreams.

What is Helen Keller’s origin story?

Helen Keller was born in 1880 on a Homestead in Alabama. She was one of four children. At 19 months of age, Helen came down with an unknown illness the doctors called a “brain fever.” (Today it is believed she had meningitis or scarlet fever) The illness left her both deaf and blind.

helen keller

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Have you ever been at sea in a dense fog, when it seemed as if a tangible white darkness shut you in, and the great ship, tense and anxious, groped her way toward the shore with plummet and sounding-line, and you waited with beating heart for something to happen?

Helen created her own “home language” of signs that her family came to understand and could identify a person in the room based on the vibration of their footsteps. When Helen reached 7 years of age, her mother Catherine Keller read a book by Charles Dickens about the successful education of women with deaf-blindness. This book inspired Mrs. Keller to seek out better opportunities for daughter. Mrs. Keller was advised by Alexander Graham Bell to explore options at the Perkins Institute of the Blind in Massachusetts. The school’s director thought it was best to send Anne Sullivan, a 20-year-old visually impaired alumni, to teach Helen Keller. 

"The most important day I remember in all my life is the one on which my teacher, Anne Mansfield Sullivan, came to me. I am filled with wonder when I consider the immeasurable contrast between the two lives which it connects."

- helen keller

Under Sullivan’s tutorship, Helen began to imitate gestures known as finger spelling. Soon she began to make real progress. Despite Helen's frustrations, she finally had a breakthrough when she deciphered the word water. 

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 “I stood still, my whole attention fixed upon the motions of her fingers. Suddenly I felt a misty consciousness as of something forgotten — a thrill of returning thought; and somehow the mystery of language was revealed to me.  I knew then that w-a-t-e-r meant the wonderful cool something that was flowing over my hand.  The living word awakened my soul, gave it light, hope, set it free!”

Helen Keller would go on to learn many more words, study at Perkins and get a bachelor's degree from Radcliffe.  According to Perkins Institute, Helen was the first person with deaf-blindness to earn a college degree. Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan’s companionship would carry on fifty years!

How did Helen Keller graduate from College?

Anne Sullivan attended all Helen Keller’s classes and used fingerspelling to share the lectures. Sullivan also signed books to Keller that weren’t available in braille. Helen graduated cum laude from Radcliffe. She also received honorary degrees from Harvard and Temple University.

How did Helen Keller learn to read and write?

The guidance and tutorship of Anne Sullivan can not be underestimated. Sullivan’s gift as a teacher enabled Helen Keller to reach her highest potential along with the invention of braille. 

According to Perkins Institute:

Helen Keller Came To Perkins When Many Competing Systems For Reading And Writing For People With Blindness Were Being Used, Invented And Reinvented. These Systems Included Raised-Dot Alphabets Like English Braille, American Braille And New York Point; Embossed Roman Alphabets, Namely Samuel Gridley Howe's Boston Line Type; And A System That Utilized Abstracted Roman Letter Forms Called Moon Type.

Although Louis Braille Published His Tactile Writing System In 1829, It Wasn't Until 1918 That Braille Was Adopted As The Official System In The United States.

With the help of Sullivan, braille, fingerspelling and personal perseverance, Helen Keller would go on to live a full, creative life.

What Books did Helen Keller publish?

Across Helen Keller’s lifetime, she published twelve books and several articles. Below are some of the stories that you can read today. 

A Helen Keller Reading List

The Frost King by Helen Keller in the The Mentor

Description:  A short story Helen Keller wrote at age 11. It was published in the 1892 issue of the Perkins alumni journal, The Mentor. Helen Keller would later be accused of plagiarism. (more info below) You can read more about the controversy here >>>

The Story of My Life by Helen Keller

Description:  Before she was two years old, a serious illness destroyed Helen Keller's sight and hearing. At seven, alone and withdrawn, she was rescued by Ann Sullivan, her teacher and friend. By the time she was 16, Helen could speak well enough to attend preparatory school. Later she went to Radcliffe, from which she graduated with honors in 1904.

The World I Live in & Optimism by Helen Keller

Description: These poetic, inspiring essays offer insights into the world of a gifted woman who was deaf and blind. Helen Keller relates her impressions of life's beauty and promise, perceived through the sensations of touch, smell, and vibration, together with the workings of a powerful imagination.

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Out of the dark by Helen Keller

Description: This work has been selected by scholars as being culturally important, and is part of the knowledge base of civilization as we know it. 

My Religion by Helen Keller

Description: Helen Keller wrote this book after receiving many requests for her to describe her religious beliefs. She incorporated her own experiences with the teachings of Emanuel Swedenborg, a mystic born in 1688, and the Swedenborgian Church. 

Light in the Darkness  by Helen Keller

 Description: Helen Keller, reveals her mystical side in this best-selling spiritual autobiography. Writing that her first reading of Emanuel Swedenborg at age fourteen gave her truths that were "to my faculties what light, color and music are to the eye and ear," she explains how Swedenborg's works sustained her throughout her life.


This new edition includes a foreword by Dorothy Herrmann, author of the acclaimed Helen Keller: A Life, and a new chapter, "Epilogue: My Luminous Universe."

How did Hellen Keller write books?

Helen Keller used a regular typewriter or a braille typewriter to record her stories. Anne Sullivan helped edit and proofread her books over the years. 

“Her typewriter has no special attachments. She keeps the relative position of the keys by an occasional touch of the little fingers on the outer edge of the board.” - in The Story of My Life

Materials Based on Helen Keller's Life

The Miracle Worker play by William Gibson

Description: A play written by William Gibson based on the remarkable true story of Helen Keller and her teacher Annie Sullivan. This inspiring and unforgettable play has moved countless readers and become an American classic.

Description: Academy Awards went to Anne Bancroft (Best Actress) and Patty Duke (Best Supporting Actress) for their moving portrayals of Annie Sullivan and her remarkable blind and deaf pupil, Helen Keller.

The Miracle Worker (2000) The Film 

Amazon Description: Helen Keller comes under the tutelage of an amazing teacher.  Starring Hallie Kate Eisenberg, David Strathairn and Alison Elliot. 

How many blind or visually impaired authors are there?

A LOT! Did you know Alice Walker, the woman who wrote The Color Purple is blind?

Here is a list of just a few authors, I have no doubt there are many, many more! 

Conclusion

I don’t know about you but Helen Keller’s story is an inspiring reminder that anyone can overcome any obstacle and reach their highest personal potential. My hope for you today is that you will move beyond your comfort zone and keep stretching towards your dreams.

Stories with Whitney

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