I just learned with sadness from another blog about the death this past week of Harriet McBryde Johnson. Harriet was kind of a hero of mine. When I first found out that my daughter was deaf, I thought of Harriet, who’d gone to law school and become a celebrated published writer in spite of her disability. My daughter’s abilities are different, of course, but I thought, “It’s okay. She can become a lawyer like Harriet McBryde Johnson.”
I met Harriet at that writer’s conference in Charleston where I met Bret Lott. We – and a few other people – hung out together. I gave her a copy of my literary journal, Yomimono, and invited her to submit. I figured she had a unique point of view. But she never sent me anything.
The second night of the conference, I heard her read in a bar. The place was packed, and there she was at the mike, in her wheelchair, reading a very Southern story about hunting. In the next day’s session, Valerie Sayers praised her work, and sure enough, later one of Harriet’s stories appeared in the literary magazine that Sayers edited. During the conference she also mentioned that she was working on a novel about the camp for disabled kids that her parents sent her to every summer. It turned out to be a great book.
She wound up publishing an essay about her meeting with Peter Singer in The New York Times Magazine which caused quite a stir. That essay appeared in her wonderful memoir Too Late to Die Young, which is remarkable not because she suffered from a form of muscular dystrophy, but because of her fine writing, her wit, and her impassionaned political activism.
Harriet, you did good.