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Author and guide dog at MacDowell Downtown in Peterborough

With the arrival of March, it is time for MacDowell Downtown to wake from hibernation with writer Stephen Kuusisto and Nera, his devoted guide dog.

A New Hampshire native, Fulbright Scholar and graduate of University of Iowa Writer’s Workshop, Kuusisto currently directs the Renée Crown Honors Program at Syracuse University where he is also a University Professor at the Center on Human Policy, Law, and Disability Studies. The author of six books of nonfiction and poetry and numerous essays, he has earned a reputation as a compelling public speaker. Having appeared on programs such as The Oprah Winfrey Show, Animal Planet and National Public Radio, Kuusisto is also a truly public intellectual.

Kuusisto first came to MacDowell to pen “Planet of the Blind,” a memoir published to much acclaim in 1998. Since then, his essays and poems have appeared in numerous periodicals including Harper’s, The New York Times Magazine and The Washington Post Magazine. Described by Michiko Kakutani as “a powerful writer with a musical ear for language and a gift for emotional candor,” Kuusisto will bring his rare combination of intellect and humor to Bass Hall this Friday at 7:30 p.m.

Kuusisto’s sixth book, “Letters to Borges,” was released by Copper Canyon Press in February just days before his arrival in Peterborough. A native of Exeter, here’s how Kuusisto describes his Granite State roots: “I think coming from New Hampshire has been central to who I’ve become: My grandfather was a colorful, eccentric, gentleman farmer who actually manufactured early motorcycles and steam cars in the years before WWI. From him I’ve inherited a capacity for storytelling and a strong connection to New Hampshire’s lakes region where I still own a run down camp on Rattlesnake Island.” 

Kuusisto is as entertaining as he is learned, a surrealist with an activist’s heart and a career path reflecting his passions. In the late ’90s, he served as director of student services at Guiding Eyes for the Blind, a charitable nonprofit organization dedicated to training guide dogs for people with multiple disabilities (www.guidingeyes.org). Before taking his current post at Syracuse, he taught nonfiction at the graduate school at the University of Iowa and at the eye clinic at the medical college there, the Carver Institute for Macular Degeneration.

This Friday, Kuusisto will discuss guide dogs and the relationships with their humans. Upending common assumptions about the meaning of blindness, Kuusisto will tell stories of canine adventure and empathic cooperation. Describing his first guide dog, Kuusisto recalled, “My first ‘aha’ moment with Corky came on my very first day of training with her. We were walking in White Plains, N.Y., when a Jeep jumped the curb and Corky pulled me backwards to safety. That was, of course, her job, but seeing her in action like that on day one was impressive. I got it, immediately: I was in the company of a professional guide dog. And I could really trust her.”

MacDowell Downtown is held at Bass Hall at the Monadnock Center for History and Culture (formerly the Peterborough Historical Society). The presentation is free and all are welcome.

MacDowell Downtown, a series of free presentations by MacDowell Colony artists, is presented the first Friday of each month from March to November. Doors open at 7 p.m.; refreshments are served. For more information, visit www.macdowellcolony.

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