Elizabeth Goodhue recently received the 2020 Page Turner Award for non-fiction writing for her book The Truth About Down Syndrome: Lessons Learned from Raising a Son with Trisomy-21. It tells a personal story about her experiences with her first child, William, born 31 years ago with Trisomy-21, better known as Down Syndrome.
A 1976 graduate of the Southborough School, Lisa Goodhue majored in English Language and Literature at Boston University, before beginning a decades-long career as an educator. She taught high school in New Hampshire's Contoocook Valley School District for 18 years—teaching English and creative writing, serving as English department chair, and advising her school's literary magazine. She would go on to teach internationally: in Mexico, where she started a writing center, and at Kula Lumpur in Malaysia, focusing, she recalls "on all aspects of writing, reading, curriculum design and online learning."
But for all her teaching experience, for 31 years she truly believes that William has been her teacher, and in her book she shares what she has learned from her son. After returning home to New Hampshire, Goodhue focused more on her own writing. She had been blogging about her experiences, but after becoming involved with local writing groups, she resolved to tell their story: hers and Williams.
Recently, two profiles of Goodhue—in The Keene Sentinel and The Monadnock Ledger-Transcript—drew attention to her journey. "I realized I wanted to get [my story] out in a positive way," she told the Sentinel. "I wanted to get that message out—the only big difference he has is his 21st chromosome. No one knows that.
"I always wanted to send the world a message that having a son or family member with Down syndrome is not this great tragedy," Goodhue told the Ledger-Transcript. "It's not this great horrible thing, it's just that it's different. . . I do know if he hadn't been in my life, I wouldn't be the person I am today. I've changed so dramatically in the way I view the world."
In her book, she uses vignettes and poetry to tell her story. "It's creative nonfiction — it's more than a straight-out biography or autobiography; it's pretty lyrical," she said in her Sentinel interview. "I wanted a metaphor for people to be able to connect their lives [to mine]." The book, she notes, is as much about her as it is about William, who is non-verbal and doesn't read or write. "I understand his language." she says, pointing out that he loves music and theater and has a tremendous sense of humor.
At the Southborough School—coordinated academically, artistically, and socially with St. Mark's from 1972 through 1977—Lisa Goodhue twice won the History Prize, but more importantly she was exposed to a unique collaborative environment: a community of learners and leaders. With their boardwalk linking them together in a close-knit residential community, Southborough School students shared equally the responsibility for the direction of the School through their weekly Town Meetings, and benefited from an innovative curriculum in a progressive environment. Goodhue certainly absorbed the lessons inherent in that special place. At her graduation, she was presented with the Community Award, as "that student who has most consistently through her activities and her influence contributed to the best human qualities of the school community."
She continues to uphold those "best human qualities of a school community" exemplified in her Southborough School experience, this time in a much more personal way. A family is a community of love and understanding, and William has been such an important part of her family community for more than three decades. "He is the most sensitive, loving, caring person I think that I know," she says. "It's hard not to fall in love with Will."
Goodhue was originally planning to self-publish The Truth About Down Syndrome, but her Page Turner Award recognition also got her a literary agent, so hopefully her story—and William's—can find a wider audience.
Sources for this piece include "Peterborough writer wins award for book about son with Trisomy-21" by Tim Goodwin, Monadnock Ledger-Transcript 11/11/2020; "A Story of Motherhood: Peterborough Author Wins Non-Fiction Writing Award" by Nicole S. Colson, Keene Sentinel 11/19/2020, and "Educating Internationally: Lisa Goodhue SS '76" by Nick Noble, St. Mark's Magazine, January 2016.