On October 21, Kenny Fries, an award winning writer of numerous books, essays, and
poetry, spoke as part of Bowdoin College’s “Disability and Accessibility” series. Fries was born with a congenital physical disability that impacts his legs and ability to
walk. Fries is openly gay, and has traveled the world as a result of numerous grants
that have allowed him to spend time writing in Japan and most recently Germany, where
he currently lives with his husband.
Fries is a prolific writer and has been a favorite of mine since I read “Staring
Back”, an anthology he edited in 1997. Staring Back was the first anthology of writers
with disabilities to be published by a major publishing house in America. Fries continued
to explain that even though it has been out of print for years, the book is referenced in textbooks and classrooms to this day, and he still receives royalty checks yearly.
In October of 1997, in my final year of college, I found and bought a copy of Staring Back at a local bookstore. I spent as much of that night reading as I could, and the following day I approached my editor to do a review on the book. The review was revolutionary in the fact that one of the authors included in the essay, Jean Stewart, had attended the University of Maine AND was in a writers group with Stephen and Tabitha King. I even got a quote from Fries that day, and my editor actually gave me some rare and incredibly high praise. Hearing how influential the book had become only reinforced how my initial review was quite correct.
Hearing an author speak in person is truly magical. Fries gave a number of readings, recalling his times in Japan and many other hilariously interesting anecdotes. To me, the highlight was a piece about his hike up the Beehive trail on Mount Desert Island with his partner. Fries made the story come alive with focus on details, the interplay of his body and its limitations, as well as the details of his partner’s climbing difficulties. He captured the essence of the place and took you there, with his own fears and laughter guiding you through the hike. It was spellbinding to hear Fries read the riveting passage in person.
Fries stop in Maine was one of only four stops on a short tour. Fries teaches at the MFA in Creative Writing Program at Goddard College in Vermont. He has won numerous grants and has several books of both nonfiction and poetry available. His website at www.kennyfries.com will list his extensive writing credentials. Thanks to Bowdoin College for bringing such a captivating writer to Maine.