Daily Archives: October 30, 2014

Scholar Signs: Visible Language, reviewed. PLUS: The Keller-Bell letters, parsed!

Miranda Medugno and Sarah Anne Sillers (C. Stanley Photography)

Miranda Medugno and Sarah Anne Sillers (C. Stanley Photography)

My review of Visible Language, an ambitious original musical in English and American Sign Language being performed at Gallaudet University, is in today’s Washington City Paper. One of the play’s concerns is Alexander Graham Bell‘s relationship with Helen Keller, whom he met as his student, but who became a close friend of Bell and his wife, Mabel.

Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan, undated photo.

Helen Keller & Anne Sullivan, undated

I’ll say. While researching this review I found several pieces of correspondence spanning a 25-year period between Bell and Keller in the Library of Congress. I haven’t made anything approaching a serious attempt at scholarship here, but I read the letters I found and I was moved and amused by the story they tell, or at least suggest.

In chronological order, to the extent possible:

This one, which Keller wrote to Bell on George Peabody College for Teachers letterhead, is dated only with a month and day. It’s purely cordial. She talks about addressing the German Scientific Society of New York in English and German, and telling them “every deaf child should have a chance to learn to speak.” Which was Bell’s belief, too, according to the musical. His rival, Edward Miner Gallaudet, believed that sign language, rather than speech, should be the primary method of teaching the deaf to communicate. That’s the conflict that drives Visible Language. Continue reading