Had Alice Walker not been blinded in one eye, she might never have become a writer, said Tim Teeman in the London Times. Growing up in poverty in rural Georgia, the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Color Purple was just 8 years old when her brother, Curtis, accidentally shot her with an air rifle.

“We were playing cowboys and Indians, and because I was a girl, I was an Indian,” she recalls. “I was standing on top of a makeshift garage made of corrugated tin when the pellet hit me. It was a blinding, massive sting. Only later did it really hurt.” Help was delayed because Curtis tried to get her to lie about the accident. “By the time the truth came out, it was too late to save the sight in that eye. I remember sitting on the porch, watching the blood cover the tree I was looking at. That’s the last thing I saw out of my right eye.”

The accident turned out to be a blessing, says Walker, now 67. While recovering at home, she spent a lot of time reading—devouring words with her good eye—and ended up getting a scholarship to college. “I got an education,” she says. “Curtis became a gangster. He shot people, used cocaine, and died before I had a chance to thank him. I survived, and I would have died if I’d stayed there.”