Re-Envisioning the Governorship of New York – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Re-Envisioning the Governorship of New York

As New York and national headlines fill with reports of scandal, criticism and a resignation, a recent New York Times editorial by a former HWS faculty member, the son of a former HWS president and an alum reads in support of New York State's new governor, David Paterson.

In his March 14 New York Times editorial, “The Vision Thing,” Stephen A. Kuusisto '78 addresses the issue of blindness surrounding Paterson's appointment. Paterson, who lost most of his vision due to a childhood illness, will take the oath of office on Monday following the resignation of Gov. Eliot Spitzer.

Currently a professor of creative nonfiction writing and a public humanities scholar at the University of Iowa, Kuusisto is also an accomplished poet and author of several memoirs that address his life as a person with extremely low vision, including his best-selling memoir, “Planet of the Blind.” In the Times editorial, he notes the significance that the first legally blind chief state executive can have on educating the public about people with disabilities and cites the new governor's added strengths.

“New Yorkers will no doubt discover that Mr. Paterson will take great interest in the details of governance; this will require him to take sincere interest in people. He'll ask more questions than your average politician,” Kuusisto explained.

Kuusisto salutes him in this leadership position. “I'm guessing there are some who wonder whether a blind man is up to the job of governing the Empire State. Even though there are 10 million blind or visually impaired Americans, many people have never seen one of them in a job of such responsibility – or in any professional role at all,” Kuusisto said.

“Although it's been close to 20 years since the adoption of the Americans With Disabilities Act, the unemployment rate for the blind is estimated to be 70 percent. In this era of superb computer screen-reading software and talking P.D.A. devices, when many blind Americans are college graduates, this statistic implies that the public still doesn't fully understand how talented visually impaired professionals are.

That's fine. New Yorkers once underestimated Franklin Roosevelt. Now David Paterson can show how a legally blind person can lead.”

At Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Kuusisto remains a contributing editor of the Colleges' national literary journal, Seneca Review. When a special issue of the Seneca Review was released last November at the Lyric Essay Symposium, Kuusisto returned to campus as one of four writers and experts who read and offered their scholarly perspective. In 2006, Kuusisto was a guest of the President's Forum Series called “The Art of Memoir” with the late-Professor of English and John Milton Potter Professorship of Humanities Deborah Tall.

With Tall, he has published multiple works, one of them a collaboration with colleague Professor of English David Weiss on “The Poet's Notebook: Excerpts from the Notebooks of Contemporary American Poets,” which was published by Norton in 1997. His poems and essays have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Harper's, Poetry and Partisan Review.

Currently, Kuusisto is working on a collection of his prose poems, titled “Mornings With Borges,” as well as a collection of political poems about disability.

Kuusisto, a Fulbright Scholar, holds an M.F.A. in creative writing/poetry from the highly regarded Writers Workshop at the University of Iowa.

To read The New York Times editorial click here.

Kuusisto was a guest on NPR's “Talk of the Nation,” on Monday, March 17. The complete interview is available for download. (MP3 Format)

In the photo above, Kuusisto is giving a talk as a guest of the President's Forum Series in Albright Auditorium on Sept. 18, 2006.