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Susan McKinney and Deborah Kent Stein for Writers Aloud

By Carolyn Roberts

“I’ve always loved words,” says Susan McKinney de Ortega. “I was St. Dorothy School’s 1972 eighth grade spelling bee champion.” That same year she wrote a short story and discovered the magic of storytelling. “I’ve wanted to tell stories ever since.”

SOL/PEN Writers Aloud Readings, w/Susan McKinney & Deborah Kent Stein, Wed, Jan, 18, 4-5pm, Café Santa Ana, La Biblioteca, Reloj 50A, 70 pesos

 McKinney de Ortega studied Journalism at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and became a television news reporter. In an episode during this period she and a photographer and a University of Wisconsin intern found themselves travelling on the same road as an escaped convict, and gave chase in search of a great story.

While McKinney de Ortega spent much of her life telling other people’s stories, she says she found the courage to tell her own after she settled in Mexico.

McKinney de Ortega has lived in San Miguel de Allende since 1992 and has primarily written about raising a bicultural family with her Mexican husband. Her essay on bi-cultural living was broadcast on National Public Radio in 2000. She has published twice in Sol: November 2010 and November 2011.

McKinney de Ortega, author of Flirting in Spanish, reads for Sol/PEN at La Biblioteca’s comfortable coffeehouse setting at the Café Santa Ana.

Also reading is Deborah Kent Stein, first vice-president of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) of Illinois, coordinator of “Slate Pals,” a Braille Pen-pal program of the NFB, and editor for the quarterly magazine Future Reflections for parents and teachers of blind children.

Stein, blind from birth, has had a passion for writing from an early age. Through her writing, she has helped blind people, especially children, realize their dreams.

Stein is known for her writing, both fiction and non-fiction, for children and young adults. She has recently begun to write literary nonfiction essays for adults. Her essay, “Saying Goodbye to Miss Spetgang” was published in the July 2011 issue of Sol. Stein’s works are not only about issues of blindness or disability, but about a larger, more complex world, full of fine details. For Stein, touch is the most important aspect in the learning process. Children love to touch; they learn from touch. It is the first way of learning. “Nothing was too ordinary for our attention,” she says of her daily walk with her parents. “Everything was interesting and worth inspecting.”

Stein was fascinated by stories and storytelling from a young age. With encouragement from her father, she made up stories and dramatized them at home. Her younger brother was in charge of sound effects and background music. “We went off on [imaginary] expeditions to Africa or India or Malaya to capture wild animals like the legendary Frank (Bring ‘em Back Alive) Buck. Lots of opportunities for roaring lions, trumpeting elephants, and laughing hyenas.”

“The key to success,” says Stein, “is giving blind children complete access to the world around them, on a par with their sighted peers.” (Future Reflections–“Raising Successful Blind children,” Donna Hill–June 14, 2010).

 SOL/PEN Writers Aloud, takes place twice monthly from November through mid-March. Nineteen writers will participate in the series, including Tony Cohan, Lynda Schor, C.M. Mayo, Carl Selph, Gerard Helferich, and others. Proceeds benefit both La Biblioteca and the scholarship fund of the San Miguel de Allende chapter of PEN—an international organization advocating for issues involving freedom of speech and the press, and providing advocacy for writers in repressive societies.

Sol: English Writing in Mexico, a thrice-yearly on-line literary magazine now in its sixth issue (March 2012). A hard copy of selections from the magazine will be available this spring. (

The 70-peso admission charge includes a 35-peso credit toward a beverage in the restaurant.

Carolyn Roberts writes fiction and non-fiction and is Chief Assistant Editor for Sol: English Writing in Mexico.

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