Photograph by Jonathan Barkat
Laurie Rubin is a mezzo-soprano opera singer, co-founder of a performing arts high school in Honolulu (Ohana Arts), and a first-time author. She’s also blind, a fact that is both central and incidental to her identity as you read Do You Dream in Color?: Insights from a Girl Without Sight. Rubin’s memoir not only tells her life story but also highlights the universal struggle of trying to find yourself despite obstacles along your path. The book comes out on October 23.
How long have you been writing the book? What in your life now compelled you to tell your story now?
It’s a question people always ask me. I started writing the book exactly four years from its publication date. It was right before the presidential election in 2008. I was sitting in a little restaurant — Isabella on 79th and Amsterdam — with my partner Jenny. I was frustrated. When I would interview for jobs, they were worried how I would do onstage, being blind. I wanted to tell my story since it has a universal message. I called a writer I really like. I asked him “How did you write about your life?” He said he didn’t consult, but he had a friend who did. I wrote the book and his friend asked me the right questions. That’s sort of how the structure of the book evolved, answering his questions. It evolved over time.
Bruce Adolf wrote the title track for the CD [which is being released along with the book]. His composition was based on my poem “Do You Dream in Color?” and that sort of turned into my book. He said, “I want to write something for you. I want it to be about your blindness. To get more awareness.” I was so honored.
You’ve written that you’ve experienced color your whole life despite being blind. What do you mean by that?
I don’t exactly know why this is but when someone says the word “blue,” I immediately see blue. It’s an abstract thing. I, for some reason, see a C note. B flat is brown or chocolate. It helps that I can see a little bit of color and light. I always joke with people that I had a past life. I don’t think they think I’m serious about this. You don’t know what happens before or after your life. Other people who are blind have no idea of colors. My family has always been telling me what colors look like. I liked to read a lot and that helped too.
What did you like to read growing up? And now?
Anne of Green Gables: She is so detailed and eccentric. It’s never short of description or romanticizing. I enjoyed the Ramona Quincy books too. Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice was fascinating to me. When I went to London, you could touch everything in the museums. They’re full of antique furniture, things that were in books. Touching these things was important to me for things to come to life. Here in the United States, you can’t really touch things, like at the Met. I got sort of mad about this.