TLC #7: Coming Into Language

"I did not know that I was spelling a word or even that words existed."


You’re getting this email because you signed up to attend The Long Conversation, a live show dedicated to the crafts of writing, reading, and editing, hosted by me, Rachel Jepsen, a social creature.

Our next gathering is on Friday, December 11, at 5:30 PM EST, where we’ll be discussing a portion of Helen Keller’s memoir, The Story of My Life.


Keller’s journey of coming into language is astounding, her writing immaculate. It’s impossible to read her work without thinking about the stakes of writing and reading, of communicating with others. What motivates Keller toward language?

Concretely, as you’re reading, think about what TLCs #4 and #5, and how Keller’s work is related to our discussions of the body’s role in writing—what is its role in language? How does Keller express how language comes to her through the body? This is what we will focus on in our talk.

Who was Helen Keller?

Helen Keller is one of the most badass people to have ever lived.

Born in Alabama in 1880, Keller, who was deaf and blind, worked her whole adult life as a writer, speaker, and activist. In her lectures and writings, Keller fought for the rights of people with disabilities and the rights of workers, for antimilitarism, suffrage, and other causes. Keller was an outspoken member of the Socialist Party of America and of the Industrial Workers of the World—in her life she was regarded as one of the most important and eloquent writers and lecturers on the subject of socialism.

Among many pioneering accomplishments, Keller was the first deaf and blind person to graduate with a Bachelor of Arts, from Radcliffe College. She traveled the world to lecture and work, and her influence and the wide admiration she enjoyed led to many commendations and honors in and after her life, in the U.S. and abroad. Her visage can be found on coins and stamps, her life on stage and screen. Streets, hospitals, and schools bear her name. Helen Keller International continues to serve communities around the world. Keller died in 1968, at 87.

The reading (don’t panic, I shortened it)

Yes, I originally asked you to read the whole book. If you did, that’s awesome! I’m sure you don’t regret it. And if you still want to, go for it! You’ll only be the better for having done so.

But granted, I didn’t remind you last week, and not everyone has the time. So here are the chapters I ask you to read (they are short!), about 35 pages to prepare for our discussion:


Included at the end of the memoir are letters that chronicle Keller’s writing from the very beginning of her written language through to her entering college. Those are there for your perusal—there’s a lot to learn as you observe Keller coming into language through these letters.

Where can I get the reading?

This book is available online on Holloway, a digital publisher of which, disclosure alert!, I am Managing Editor. You’ll have to create a simple account to access, but the entire book is free! (Also, there are incredible pictures that I dug out of digital archives to include!)



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