New York native pens book showing American history through the eyes of a young man from Massachusetts with Down syndrome.


 

When Victoria Harris sat down to meet Connor Gifford, she was surprised by the depth of his knowledge, particularly when it comes to American history.

“He said how sad it was that enough people don’t study history,” Harris said. “Because by being so ignorant of our past, we keep making the same mistakes over and over.”

The line that Gifford, 26 -- who has Down syndrome -- said in January 2007 stuck with Harris, a Brighton native. 

Harris set aside a novel she had been working on and decided to start work on a book about Gifford. She spent six months interviewing him in Nantucket, Mass., and transformed his thoughts into “America According To Connor Gifford.”

The book, co-authored by Gifford, was released in May, and now the two are on a promotional tour across the country.

Harris said at first she didn’t know where she would go with the book. Having transcribed many extensive interviews, she started to see trends in his thinking, and she took note how Gifford was interested in issues like women’s rights, religious freedom and war. That gave her the idea of focusing on key historic figures and events from the past 400 years.

“It wasn’t going to be a history like any other history,” Harris said. “It was America through the eyes of a young man with Down syndrome, and I wanted it to be different. I wanted people who don’t like history to read the book.”

So she broke the book into 53 short profiles of people and events that Gifford think shaped America’s identity.

While interviewing Gifford, Harris spotted a drawing of his depicting the March on Washington. She asked him to draw more pictures of historical topics.

“He’d take out his pencil and do something that was marvelous,” she said. “He did them with a pencil on basic school paper; a lead pencil -- it wasn’t even sharpened. He just scribbled these things, but there was a profound artistic ability.”

Harris decided to include 58 of the drawings in the book.

The book is dedicated to the late NBC political analyst and host of “Meet the Press” Tim Russert. Russert had supported the book, as has Kathie Lee Gifford from the “Today” and Chris Matthews from “Hardball with Chris Matthews.”

Harris, who appeared on the “Today” show, is hoping to inspire through the book.

“When I meet people, they say, ‘I saw you on the ‘Today’ show and I was in tears,'” she said. “It’s very inspirational, poignant and moving. People get very teary-eyed in the end.”

The book is available online at ConnorGifford.com and at  Amazon.com. It is also available nationwide in Barnes and Noble and Borders book stores.

Contact Dan Goldman at (585) 394-0770, Ext. 270 or dgoldman@messengerpostmedia.com.