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Beyond the Miracle Worker: The Remarkable Life of Anne Sullivan Macy and Her Extraordinary Friendship with Helen Keller

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Beyond the Miracle Worker: The Remarkable Life of Anne Sullivan Macy and Her Extraordinary Friendship with Helen Keller Cover

ISBN13: 9780807050460
ISBN10: 0807050466
Condition: Standard
Dustjacket: Standard
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Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

After many years, historian and Helen Keller expert Kim Nielsen realized that she, along with other historians and biographers, had failed Anne Sullivan Macy. While Macy is remembered primarily as Helen Kellers teacher and mythologized as a straightforward educational superhero, the real story of this brilliant, complex, and misunderstood woman, who described herself as a “badly constructed human being,” has never been completely told.
 
Beyond the Miracle Worker, the first biography of Macy in nearly fifty years, complicates the typical Helen-Annie “feel good” narrative in surprising ways. By telling the life from Macys perspective—not Kellers—the biography is the first to put Macy squarely at the center of the story. It presents a new and fascinating tale about a wounded but determined woman and her quest for a successful, meaningful life.

 

Born in 1866 to poverty-stricken Irish immigrants, the parentless and deserted Macy suffered part of her childhood in the Massachusetts State Almshouse at Tewksbury. Seeking escape, in love with literature, and profoundly stubborn, she successfully fought to gain an education at the Perkins School for the Blind.

 
As an adult, Macy taught Keller, helping the girl realize her immense potential, and Macys intimate friendship with Keller remained powerful throughout their lives. Yet as Macy floundered with her own blindness, ill health, and depression, as well as a tumultuous and triangulated marriage, she came to lean on her former student, emotionally, physically, and economically.
 
Based on privately held primary source material, including materials at both the American Foundation for the Blind and the Perkins School for the Blind, Beyond the Miracle Worker is revelatory and absorbing, unraveling one of the best known—and least understood—friendships of the twentieth century.

Review:

"After writing two books about Helen Keller, historian Nielsen (The Radical Lives of Helen Keller) vowed she 'would never again write anything even remotely related to her.' Fortunately, she couldn't help herself: upon reviewing the letters of Keller's teacher, Anne Sullivan Macy, Nielsen 'became convinced [we] had shortchanged the woman known only as the teacher of Helen Keller.' Through Sullivan's correspondence and notes, Nielsen remedies this lack with a 'lightly fictionalized' autobiography drawing on the written impressions of Keller and others. Nielsen devotedly chronicles Sullivan's emergence as an opinionated and intelligent if troubled woman who was born poor, afflicted early on with a debilitating eye disease and abandoned to an almshouse after her mother's death. Luck and innate ability plucked her out of the asylum and placed her in the classroom. But Nielsen concedes that Sullivan's relationship with Keller took center stage in both the public consciousness and private life. Citing historical uncertainty, Nielsen self-consciously skims over Sullivan's early teaching methods, including that iconic moment at the water pump — the very moment we all wonder about. 4 b&w photos." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)

Synopsis:

After many years, historian and Helen Keller expert Kim Nielsen realized that she, along with other historians and biographers, had failed Anne Sullivan Macy. While Macy is remembered primarily as Helen Keller's teacher and mythologized as a straightforward educational superhero, the real story of this brilliant, complex, and misunderstood woman, who described herself as a "badly constructed human being," has never been completely told.

Beyond the Miracle Worker, the first biography of Macy in nearly fifty years, complicates the typical Helen-Annie "feel good" narrative in surprising ways. By telling the life from Macy's perspective-not Keller's-the biography is the first to put Macy squarely at the center of the story. It presents a new and fascinating tale about a wounded but determined woman and her quest for a successful, meaningful life.

Born in 1866 to poverty-stricken Irish immigrants, the parentless and deserted Macy suffered part of her childhood in the Massachusetts State Almshouse at Tewksbury. Seeking escape, in love with literature, and profoundly stubborn, she successfully fought to gain an education at the Perkins School for the Blind.

As an adult, Macy taught Keller, helping the girl realize her immense potential, and Macy's intimate friendship with Keller remained powerful throughout their lives. Yet as Macy floundered with her own blindness, ill health, and depression, as well as a tumultuous and triangulated marriage, she came to lean on her former student, emotionally, physically, and economically.

Based on privately held primary source material, including materials at both the American Foundation for the Blind and the Perkins School for the Blind, Beyond the Miracle Worker is revelatory and absorbing, unraveling one of the best known-and least understood-friendships of the twentieth century.

About the Author

Kim E. Nielsen is an award-winning educator, the author of three books, including The Radical Lives of Helen Keller, and the editor of Helen Keller: Selected Writings. Nielsen lives in Green Bay, Wisconsin, where she is professor of history and womens studies at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.

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Sarah Miller, May 20, 2009 (view all comments by Sarah Miller)
Maybe it seems counter-intuitive to write a solo biography of Anne Sullivan Macy -- who would have heard of her if not for Helen Keller, right? Even for someone who's as nutzoid for Annie as I am, it's odd at first to read a biography in which Helen Keller gets so obviously sidelined. However, much as I value Joseph Lash's dual biography, Helen and Teacher, and as much as the two women's lives were intertwined, reading Nielsen's solo examination of Annie reveals just how much of a distraction keeping up with Helen Keller creates for those of us interested the intricacies of Annie Sullivan.

Without the focus constantly swinging toward the details of Helen's existence, vital elements like Annie's disabilities and mercurial personality virtually become characters in their own right. In fact, Nielsen shows that Annie's wavering eyesight, chronic pain, recurring illnesses, and lifelong bouts of melancholy were more debilitating than Helen's blindness and deafness -- though no one who spent 40-odd years standing next to a deaf-blind icon would dare draw attention to that fact. Not even saucy Annie Sullivan.

While many biographers tend to frame the hardships in Annie's early life as a rags-to-riches buildup to her successes as Helen Keller's famous teacher, Nielsen details the lingering effects of Annie's childhood traumas on her adult relationships and behavior. The truth of the matter is that Annie Sullivan was damaged goods, and even the salve of Helen's decades-long friendship never fully closed those wounds. No matter how much Helen loved and venerated her, Anne Sullivan Macy was not an easy woman to live with. Fortunately for the rest of us, all the extremes that made her such a trial and a delight make for a fascinating read under Nielsen's steady gaze.


***************
Addendum:
I am vicariously incensed with Publisher's Weekly for referring to this book as "lightly fictionalized autobiography." In fact, NONE of Nielsen's writing in this biography can be characterized in any way as fictionalized. On the contrary, Nielsen uses Anne Sullivan Macy's own lightly fictionalized autobiographical writings as a source for her work, but clearly indicates between documented facts and the autobiographical stories of 'Johannah [Annie] and Jimmie Dunnivan' culled from Macy's unpublished memoirs. *humpf*
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780807050460
Subtitle:
The Remarkable Life of Anne Sullivan Macy and Her Extraordinary Friendship with Helen Keller
Author:
Nielsen, Kim E
Author:
Nielsen, Kim E.
Publisher:
Beacon Press
Subject:
General
Subject:
Women
Subject:
Keller, Helen
Subject:
Sullivan, Annie
Subject:
Historical - U.S.
Subject:
General Biography
Subject:
General History
Copyright:
Edition Description:
Trade Cloth
Publication Date:
20090501
Binding:
Hardback
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Illustrations:
Y
Pages:
320
Dimensions:
9.00 x 6.00 in

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Related Subjects

Languages » Deaf Studies » Being Blind and Deaf

Beyond the Miracle Worker: The Remarkable Life of Anne Sullivan Macy and Her Extraordinary Friendship with Helen Keller Used Hardcover
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Product details 320 pages Beacon Press - English 9780807050460 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "After writing two books about Helen Keller, historian Nielsen (The Radical Lives of Helen Keller) vowed she 'would never again write anything even remotely related to her.' Fortunately, she couldn't help herself: upon reviewing the letters of Keller's teacher, Anne Sullivan Macy, Nielsen 'became convinced [we] had shortchanged the woman known only as the teacher of Helen Keller.' Through Sullivan's correspondence and notes, Nielsen remedies this lack with a 'lightly fictionalized' autobiography drawing on the written impressions of Keller and others. Nielsen devotedly chronicles Sullivan's emergence as an opinionated and intelligent if troubled woman who was born poor, afflicted early on with a debilitating eye disease and abandoned to an almshouse after her mother's death. Luck and innate ability plucked her out of the asylum and placed her in the classroom. But Nielsen concedes that Sullivan's relationship with Keller took center stage in both the public consciousness and private life. Citing historical uncertainty, Nielsen self-consciously skims over Sullivan's early teaching methods, including that iconic moment at the water pump — the very moment we all wonder about. 4 b&w photos." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Synopsis" by , After many years, historian and Helen Keller expert Kim Nielsen realized that she, along with other historians and biographers, had failed Anne Sullivan Macy. While Macy is remembered primarily as Helen Keller's teacher and mythologized as a straightforward educational superhero, the real story of this brilliant, complex, and misunderstood woman, who described herself as a "badly constructed human being," has never been completely told.

Beyond the Miracle Worker, the first biography of Macy in nearly fifty years, complicates the typical Helen-Annie "feel good" narrative in surprising ways. By telling the life from Macy's perspective-not Keller's-the biography is the first to put Macy squarely at the center of the story. It presents a new and fascinating tale about a wounded but determined woman and her quest for a successful, meaningful life.

Born in 1866 to poverty-stricken Irish immigrants, the parentless and deserted Macy suffered part of her childhood in the Massachusetts State Almshouse at Tewksbury. Seeking escape, in love with literature, and profoundly stubborn, she successfully fought to gain an education at the Perkins School for the Blind.

As an adult, Macy taught Keller, helping the girl realize her immense potential, and Macy's intimate friendship with Keller remained powerful throughout their lives. Yet as Macy floundered with her own blindness, ill health, and depression, as well as a tumultuous and triangulated marriage, she came to lean on her former student, emotionally, physically, and economically.

Based on privately held primary source material, including materials at both the American Foundation for the Blind and the Perkins School for the Blind, Beyond the Miracle Worker is revelatory and absorbing, unraveling one of the best known-and least understood-friendships of the twentieth century.

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