May 19, 2016 6:11 AM EDT

“You are such a geek!” Back in 1989, when Dunn’s mesmerizing novel Geek Love debuted, that meant something far different than now. It meant it was your job to bite the heads off of live chickens. As in, a freak show. Geek Love was about much more than that–it was a twisted celebration of individuality, familial loyalty and ideas of the grotesque and beautiful that have nothing to do with appearance. Most of us think we grew up in a family of freaks. Dunn, who died May 11 at 70, gleefully reminded us that we had no idea.

As a young book-jacket designer, I had the job of giving such an unexpected story a cover to match. The answer: fluorescent orange. Lots of it. Dunn later wrote to me, “The cover arrived with a note inquiring cautiously whether I thought this was too, too … anything. No, it’s not too, I thought. It’s visible. And you could fry eggs on it.”

Dunn’s art made us all into a new kind of geek–the nerdy, obsessed, fannish kind. And yes: we loved her for it.

Kidd is an award-winning graphic designer and author

This appears in the May 30, 2016 issue of TIME.

Contact us at editors@time.com.

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