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Kellogg Graduate School of Management
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Heading to Havana

Ahead of Her Time
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Wordsmith Unbound

Wordsmith Abound
Henry Kisor (GJ64), book editor of the Chicago Sun Times, has a special way with words.

Photo by Sam F. Comen
Seated in his Evanston home amid end tables piled with books, Henry Kisor (GJ64) laughs as he recalls a teen-ager who once asked him: "You get paid for reading books every day?"

Kisor, the Chicago Sun-Times’ book editor since 1978, is constantly reading — and loving it.

Although meningitis left him totally deaf at the age of 3 1/2, he was devouring the newspaper by age 9. "My parents immediately taught me to read so that I would have some means of communicating with the outside world," says Kisor.

A finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 1981 for criticism and elected last year to the Chicago Journalism Hall of Fame, he nonetheless has had to work hard to break down people’s misconceptions. "I still feel in some ways that being deaf, having difficulties in speech, does make me a second-class citizen in the eyes of some people," Kisor says. "I think minority reporters also respect me more because I think they know that I have to go through what they’re going through."

After graduating from college, Kisor was encouraged to come to the Medill School of Journalism by a family friend who was a professor. At Medill Kisor discovered he had a knack for news.

Reporting was not an option, so he worked as a copy editor for the now-defunct Chicago Daily News. He then became book editor for the Daily News and continued in the position with the Sun-Times.

Early on Kisor, who lip-reads, conducted face-to-face interviews with authors, which he taped and his wife transcribed.

Although lip reading can be difficult, Kisor understands some people all the time, like his wife. "I can lip-read her in the dark," he says, laughing.
In the 1980s, after years of critiquing other authors’ work, Kisor decided he needed to pay his dues by writing his own book. "I began to realize that there were almost no books available on the subject of deafness that had been written by deaf people themselves," he says. The result was What’s That Pig Outdoors? (Hill and Wang, 1990), a memoir of his life as a deaf person. The unusual title came from an incident when his son asked, "What’s that big loud noise?" and by lip reading Kisor understood the question as "What’s that pig outdoors?"

Another book, Flight of the Gin Fizz (Basic Books, 1997), came about after "a bit of a midlife crisis" inspired him to learn how to fly at age 53. "I wanted to do something other people couldn’t do," Kisor says. "When you’re at 5,000 feet all by yourself, nothing can touch you. If something interests you, you fly over there and take a better look at it. Like the eyes of God."

For the book he set out in his Cessna 150, christened the Gin Fizz, to re-enact the first transcontinental flight, Cal Rodgers’ journey across the United States in 1911. At first, Kisor, who flew from the New Jersey shore to Southern California in three segments, did not know Rodgers was also hearing-impaired.

Kisor, who recently sold his first mystery novel to a New York publisher, still flies on weekends, but his primary activity remains reading. No slave to passing literary fashions, he says his "all-time favorite" novel is still The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

When Kisor reads, he looks for similes and metaphors, sometimes writing them down and altering them to "make them my own. ... As the great old syndicated columnist, Sydney J. Harris, once said, ‘The best writers steal only from the best sources.’ "

— Katherine Leal Unmuth (J03)