M. Leona Godin ’86 (pronounced like French sculptor Rodin) is a blind writer, performer, educator, and author of There Plant Eyes: A Personal and Cultural History of Blindness (Pantheon, 2021).
Leona's writing has appeared in The New York Times, Playboy, O Magazine, Electric Literature, Catapult, and other print and online publications. She produced two plays: “The Star of Happiness” about Helen Keller’s time performing in vaudeville, and “The Spectator and the Blind Man,” about the invention of braille. She is currently writing a script for a forthcoming feature-length documentary about blind culture directed by Max Lewkowicz. Godin holds a Ph.D. in English, and besides her many years teaching literature and humanities courses at NYU, she has lectured on art, accessibility, technology, and disability at such places as Tandon School of Engineering, Rice University, Baylor College of Medicine, and the American Printing House for the Blind. Her online magazine exploring the arts and sciences of smell and taste, Aromatica Poetica (www.aromaticapoetica.com), publishes writing and art from around the world.
When you were a student at Burke’s, what did you dream you’d be doing at this point in your life?
The things I’m currently doing—writing, performing, teaching—are all things that I loved to do when I was at Burke’s and imagined myself continuing to do in the future. I did also want to be a marine mammal biologist, but, hard as I try, I can’t do it all!
What three words or phrases come to mind when you hear “Katherine Delmar Burke School”?
Great and dynamic friendships. Thoughtful and engaged teachers. World-expanding experiences, both in school and out with friends.
Who was one of your favorite teachers at Burke’s?
I adored so many of my teachers at Burke’s, but two stand out in my mind clearly because I can remember very particular moments in their classes: Ms. Clark, our history teacher, told us this wonderful story of being on a dig with her archaeologist father, during which she’d found a tiny inconsequential bell and thrown it into a box, only to learn later that it was a precious artifact.
And Ms. Scattergood was, I think, our social studies teacher? Anyway, studying Greek mythology with her was great, not just because my mom is Greek, but also because I wrote a delightful play wherein I got my friends to enact the meanies Pandora let out of her box. That might be one of my favorite moments.
What is a favorite memory from Burke’s?
The happy memories from Burke’s are crowding about me, but perhaps it’s easiest to point to the amazing field trips we took, particularly the overnight ones, such as visiting the California Missions and sleeping on the C.A. Thayer. Not sure what possessed me, but for some reason, I got domestic when confronting the high-seas adventure and signed up for galley duty. I remember very clearly my salty-dog pals cramming the small door and banging their tin mugs demanding more stew!
What advice would you give to a current Burke’s student?
If Burke’s is anything like it was in my time, you are being encouraged to be curious, engaged, and open to new ideas. Try to take those things with you wherever you go. A fine education is incredibly powerful, but remaining humble in the face of all that you do not know is also beautiful and important in an ever-changing world so full of diversity.