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by Kenny Fries
The Disability Experience from the Inside Out, (Plume, 1997), an anthology of disabled writers
Anthologies sometimes have the reputation of being trite. This anthology breaks through that wall with force. You may have to order a used copy of this anthology to be among the lucky ones to buy this book; as I write this it's out of stock at Amazon. It's still easy to purchase from other vendors at Amazon, and available at bargain prices.
The author of Body, Remember: A Memoir and winner of the Gregory Kolvolakos Award for AIDS Writing, Fries has compiled an impressive volume of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and theater by 37 writers who live with disabilities. The disabilities of the writers include those with facial deformity, quadriplegia, hemophilia, cerebral palsy, and more. Their styles and perspectives are varied, but the writing is consistently outstanding. Several of the authors address societal misconceptions of disability and some even struggle with their own stero-types about what it means to be different. You won't find any attempts to make you cheer for the cripple who struggles to accomplish some ordinary goal. Instead, the writers demonstrate their humanity, or what Fries calls "the human connection with the past, connection with one another, connection with our bodies, connection with ourselves." From the incisive title to the credits and acknowledgments, Fries has produced a book of literary and social merit.
There is so much to learn from this book Christopher Newport University requires it in their reading for the course The Literature of Disability. It is also required reading in medical schools, social worker education, and more.
Don't think this is tired textbook reading; it's reading to open your mind on different ways of being normal.
Read more about Ken Fries at these news links.
As soon as I saw Lucy Grealy was included in this anthology, I knew it would be special. Lucy Grealy's Autobiography of a Face, was able to take me to that reading place where I'm unaware that I'm reading, only that I am in her story. Lucy Grealy died of an apparent drug overdose a few years ago. Many believe that she never was able to deal with the layers of disappointments stemming from failed surgeries. I hate to think of her in terms only of her weak moments, which lead to the end of her life. When you read her book, you'll find she had so many strong moments. If her facial deformity did lead to her death, than I am forced to wonder if it was the way we were "staring back" at her that lead her to such despair. If I am contributing to despair, I need to understand my part in this with insights that can change my perspective. If all could accept and love those who are different, most social ills would fade away. Lucy Grealy is only one of the many contributors who have a lot to reveal to us.
Andre Dubus inclusion added another layer of credibility to this anthology.
For those of you who have read Broken Vessels, Andre Dubus's first collection of essays, you'll be further enticed. Dubus writes as a Catholic, and most of his essays speak explicitly of the sacramental nature of his everyday experiences. Particularly effective are the essays describing Dubus's struggle to recover from a traffic accident that occurred after he stopped to help stranded motorists on a roadside in 1986. "Lights of the Long Night" is among the best of these, containing the kind of writing that makes you close the book immediately, knowing you've seen so deeply into a person's soul that you have to sit with what you've learned and wait for some sense of how to respond before you're entitled to keep turning the pages. --Michael Joseph
is also author of a more recent and equally fine collection of essays, "Meditations
From a Movable Chair."
Novelist Stanley Elkin
Poet Marilyn Hacker
ABC correspondent left paraplegic after a 1976 car accident
Moving Violations: War Zones, Wheelchairs, and Declarations of Independence
was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle award
and, perhaps even more importantly, receives high praise from others who share
Poet Adrienne Rich
In this groundbreaking and far-reaching collection, writers such as Andre
Dubus, Stanley Elkin, and Adrienne Rich, confront what it means to be disabled
in our society. Through the vehicles of nonfiction, poetry, fiction, and drama,
Staring Back is the first anthology to open the landscape of the disabled
experience for exploration and discussion.