"Writing was therapy, something better to do than beating my head against the wall or biting my nails. I wanted a record for myself. There were emotions that I didn't want to lose."
So said Susan L. Dunn in an interview in 1979. The record she wanted was of what it meant to go blind.
When she was 2, it was discovered that she had diabetes. The disease, which is incurable and often fatal, did not prevent her from having a normal childhood. She graduated from Northwestern High School in Hyattsville. She learned to ride a horse, and riding remained one of her principal interests. In 1969, she graduated from the University of Maryland and became a teacher at Brentwood Elementary School.
In that year, she had a small accident while riding. The diabetes caused her retinas to hemorrhage. Five years later, she was blind.
On Tuesday, Nov. 30, 1982, Susan Dunn died at Prince George's General Hospital at the age of 35. As in the case of her blindness, the heart attack was associated with diabetes.
Despite her affliction, Miss Dunn made her mark as a writer, a lecturer, a teacher and a horsewoman. She did graduate work in drama and dance at Maryland. From 1975 to 1980, she was an aide at Ridgecrest Elementary School in Hyattsville.
Her blindness was progressive. It was five years before she could not see at all. In 1970, the year after her riding accident, she spent four months at Arkansas Enterprises for the Blind. Since she still could see when she went there, she took the course wearing a blindfold.
In 1974, she resumed riding. She continued this pastime for the rest of her life, sometimes using an electronic device that students at Maryland made for her so that she could judge the distance to jumps. She also taught a riding class for students at the Maryland School for the Blind.
She did not lead the "ordinary life" she had expected before her accident. In one poem she said: Suddenly I am different, Not Susan anymore, Although I must admit . . . I'm still me looking out But what do they see, looking in?
Of her time in Arkansas she wrote: I've tried to ignore the tapping of canes But something inside caused me to hear them. And like the beating of your heart in a death cell, They blot out all other sounds. Is this the drummer I must march to?
Miss Dunn talked about her life with a reporter from The Washington Post in 1979 because the University of Maryland was producing a play written by her called "Is This the Drummer I Must March To?" She also appeared in it.
Her play was also performed at Pennsylvania State University, the Round House Theater in Silver Spring and at the Celebration '81 Arts Festival in Atlanta. National Public Radio acquired the broadcast rights to it.
Apart from her writing and teaching, she also discussed the physical and psychological aspects of her handicap before numerous service clubs and other groups. She appeared on television.
Her writing was published in the University of Maryland Magazine, Georgetown Forum, Nursing Digest and the Journal of School Health.
Miss Dunn was born in Washington. She lived the rest of her life in Hyattsville. Survivors include her parents, Carl H. and Ruth T. Dunn of Hyattsville; a sister, Christine R. McClanahan, also of Hyattsville, and three brothers, Carl H. Jr., of Salem, Va., and David B. and Bruce A., both of Seabrook, Md.
"I think this experience has made me feel more strongly that we must overlook the differences that might separate us and deal with the human being, the god, that is in each of us," Miss Dunn said in the 1979 interview. "We're all human beings under the clothes, the prejudices, the braces, whatever. We're wasting so much time being put off by these outward covers that we wear."