Kristen Witucki is a writer and teacher based in West Virginia, where she lives with her husband James, her son Langston, and her Seeing Eye dog, a black lab named Tad. Witucki’s fiction has been featured in numerous publications, including Exceptions, where her story “Test Run” was spotlighted in our Fall 2013 issue. Click here for that story, and click here for Part One of our interview with Kristen, in which she discusses her experiences, her influences, and how blindness has shaped her art. Read below for Part Two of our interview.
You mentioned previously the enormous impact your teachers had on your development. Did those experiences influence your decision to become a teacher yourself? If so, how?
Even before a very pivotal tragedy in my life, I related to several teachers more than I did to many of my classmates. But when I was fifteen, my father died, and while my mother did an amazing job keeping things together financially and emotionally, my teachers felt like intellectual and emotional guardians. They encouraged my love of literature and writing. Now I’m very honored to pay their mentoring forward to my students, though I’m constantly worry about whether I do enough or too much. I have wanted to teach for a very long time, but it’s an emotionally demanding job—like writing—and I see myself teaching in many different capacities throughout my life, rather than staying in one place.
Given today’s technology, we are able to “read” in many different ways. What are your thoughts on this new landscape of reading that includes print and Braille, audiobooks, screen readers, etc.?
Literacy is of paramount importance, and people who listen rather than reading print or braille miss so much of the structure of language. However, I’ve also worked with students for whom reading is truly a struggle, and even with all the practice we’ve given them, listening brings those people such pleasure and relief, I think, from their struggle. So to me, it’s critical to imbue braille with the vitality it needs, but there isn’t one easy answer. I’m also really eager for braille displays to be as financially accessible as regular computer screens/monitors, because the braille technology available now is truly inspiring and should be readily available to everyone.
You spoke about your family, friends, and community. To what degree are those people involved in your creative process? Who gets the first look at your drafts?
My family and friends inspire all of my creative work, but my mother, siblings, husband and son are not writers, so I don’t show them my drafts. I do have mentors and friends who write, so sometimes I beg for their time and audience, and they graciously give me those gifts.
You and your husband are both blind, and your son is sighted. Has that changed your perspective on what it means to see? Has it changed the way you engage with and observe the world?
I’ve always lived in a very sighted world; moving to a school for the blind and its community a year and a half ago was the first time I’ve been part of a majority of sorts for months at a time. In fact, I’ve felt a kinship with my son, because when he visits the dorm or when blind friends come over, he has a very different perception than all of the blind and visually impaired people around him, just as I did when I was a child among sighted people, whether he’s fully conscious of that difference or not. On the other hand, he’s very matter-of-fact about our blindness and his sight. He absorbs that categorization without misgiving. In a way, his ease with the distinction gives me a serenity about it I haven’t felt for years. I’ve also noticed that he’s a very auditory kid, because we’re always pointing out sounds to him. My mother or sighted friends who visit will often comment that he has heard a sound to which they haven’t paid attention. When he enters school next year, he’ll absorb more visual perceptions, but I think he’ll move between the sighted and blind experiences very effortlessly, because he was born into both in a way. He gives me joy about inhabiting both realms as best I can.
For more information on Kristen and her work, please visit http://kristenwitucki.com.