Seeing Clearly, Human Rights for All

By Richard Conrad Stein

Successful author Deborah Kent has published more than 100 young adult (YA) books. She also happens to be blind. As the featured speaker on Tuesday, January 19, in the 2016 PEN Winter Lecture Series, she will talk about her personal experience as it relates to the universal struggle for human rights, particularly “the tremendous importance to blind people of literacy and access to the printed word. Blind people,” she points out, “have had to fight for the opportunity to read, to learn, and to speak on their own behalf. Our experience mirrors that of many other minority groups that struggle to assimilate while retaining their own identity.”

Debbie has had a long relationship with San Miguel, where she wrote her first young adult novel, helped start the renowned Centro de Crecimiento, and met and married me. While we live in Chicago, my hometown, we continue to spend two months here every year.

Blind from birth, Debbie grew up in an education-oriented family in which books and storytelling were part of daily life. Only weeks after Debbie’s birth, her mother noticed that Debbie did not seem to look at faces or follow movement with her eyes. While the doctors at first dismissed these observations (an over-anxious, first-time mother), they soon determined that the infant Debbie was not only blind but would also have severe mental retardation. Her mother knew she wasn’t the least bit retarded.

Debbie went on to earn a BA in English from Oberlin College and an MA from Smith College School for Social Work. She spent four years as a social worker on Manhattan’s Lower East Side at the famous University Settlement House.

But she dreamed of becoming a writer, and in 1975, she moved to San Miguel and enrolled in the writing program at the Instituto Allende, where I was an instructor. At the Instituto, Debbie wrote a young adult novel, based partly on her own experience, about a blind high school girl struggling to fit in with her sighted classmates. Published by The Dial Press in 1978, Belonging launched Debbie’s writing career.

She heeded another calling when Lucha Maxwell, owner of Casa Maxwell, asked her to help start a school for blind children. Debbie began to teach two blind girls at La Biblioteca, and the Centro de Crecimiento was born. It still serves local children with disabilities.

After Debbie and I were married in 1979, she continued to write YA novels. She also became a successful writer of nonfiction for young readers, mostly in the area of US history.

San Miguel PEN is a chapter of PEN International, the organization of writers that fights for freedom of expression around the world. The 100 peso admission helps fund PEN activities and includes a free glass of wine with dinner after the event at VivaliPa, across the street from the Bellas Artes at Hernandez Macias 66. Tickets are available at Ticket Central in La Biblioteca or at the door. For more information, contact sanmiguelpen@gmail.com.

 

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