Biography & Memoir

Helen Keller is an American icon whose trailblazing life redefined human possibilities. Having lost both her sight and hearing in infancy, she broke through formidable barriers to become the first deafblind college graduate in the United States, an activist and public speaker, and a global celebrity. But her most enduring achievement is as a writer. This volume gathers her classic autobiographies The Story of My Life (1903) and The World I Live In (1908) with selections from her essays, speeches, letters, and journals, most of them out of print or previously uncollected.

First published while she was a twenty-three-year-old Radcliffe sophomore, Keller’s unforgettable memoir The Story of My Life has become a touchstone for generations of readers. It recounts how, with the help of Anne Sullivan, her beloved and innovative teacher, Keller unlocked the gift of language. In one of the most famous passages in our literature, Sullivan spells w-a-t-e-r into Keller’s hand at the family water pump, provoking an electric response: “Water! That word startled my soul, and it awoke, full of the spirit of the morning, full of joyous, exultant song.” The memoir is joined here by Sullivan’s riveting journal entries charting her student’s rapid progress, which is revealed in a selection of Keller’s earliest compositions.

In a playful, reflective key, The World I Live In explores some of the many questions readers had for Keller in the wake of the memoir’s runaway success. How could she know of color or songs without seeing or hearing them? Did she dream? What was it like to be her? Upon reading the book that resulted, the philosopher William James, who found himself “quite disconcerted, professionally speaking” by its originality, wrote Keller immediately to praise her “genius for psychological insight,” her expressive gifts, and her faith in the power of imagination.

Selected by Kim E. Nielsen, Keller’s biographer and one of the nation’s leading experts on disability history, the essays, speeches, letters, and journals that round out this volume span more than fifty years to survey Keller’s wide-ranging commitments to women’s rights, workers’ rights, racial equality, and the pacifist tradition. Chapters from My Religion (1927) express her fervent Swedenborgian faith; later letters describe visits to South Africa under apartheid and postwar Hiroshima.

The volume features a sixteen-page portfolio of biographical images, including several never before published, along with all of the many illustrations that appeared in the original editions of Keller’s works.

Kim E. Nielsen, editor, is Distinguished University Professor and Disability Studies Chair at The University of Toledo. She was the founding president of the Disability History Association. Her books include The Radical Lives of Helen Keller (2004), Beyond the Miracle Worker: Anne Sullivan Macy and Her Extraordinary Friendship with Helen Keller (2009), and A Disability History of the United States (2012).

This Library of America series edition is printed on acid-free paper and features Smyth-sewn binding, a full cloth cover, and a ribbon marker.

Project support for Helen Keller: Autobiographies & Other Writings was provided by Paula Jean (Heide) Hirsch and Roland Felix Hirsch, in honor of their children, Elizabeth, Sallie, and Paul.

This volume is available for adoption in the Guardian of American Letters Fund.

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