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The Helen Keller Exorcism

The fantasy writer Elsa Sjunneson has been haunted by Helen Keller for nearly her entire life. Elsa is Deafblind, and growing up, she couldn’t escape the constant comparisons. Then, a year ago, an online conspiracy theory claiming that Keller was a fraud exploded on TikTok, and suddenly, Sjunneson found herself drawing her sword and jumping to Keller’s defense, setting off a chain of events that would bring her closer to the disability icon than she’d ever dreamed she would be. For more than a year, Sjunneson, Lulu Miller, and the Radiolab team dug through primary sources, talked with experts, even visited Keller’s birthplace, Ivy Green, and discovered that the real story of Helen Keller is far more complicated, mysterious, and confounding than the simple myth of a young deaf-blind girl rescued by her teacher.

This story originally ran on Radiolab.

Further reading: “The Three Things Helen Keller Wished She Could See,” “Helen Keller’s Depression-Era Business Advice: ‘Put Your Husband in the Kitchen’

A transcript of this episode is available in text and braille-ready format. An ASL translation of the episode can be viewed here.

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