Kenny Fries: From memoir to mortality and impermanence

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When asked about his affection for Pikachu, American author Kenny Fries breaks into laughter. No, he says in an interview via Skype, the iconic Pokemon character had nothing to do with his decision to come to Japan. He came initially because, after applying for various fellowships, he was awarded the prestigious Creative Arts Fellowship from the Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission and the National Endowment for the Arts in 2002 to research and write about disability in Japan.

Fries has a disability himself. He was born without fibulae, a condition that has no scientific name, and subsequently underwent multiple surgical operations. In addition to having published three books of poetry and an anthology, Fries has written two highly acclaimed hybrid memoirs. In his first, “Body, Remember: A Memoir,” he writes about the history of his physical and psychic scars and his sexual awakening as a young gay man. His second, equally innovative memoir, “The History of My Shoes and the Evolution of Darwin’s Theory,” blends biological research with his own experience of adaptation. This volume was awarded the 2007 Myers Outstanding Book Award.

At the beginning of his latest autobiographical book, “In the Province of the Gods,” Fries has just arrived in Japan. Having separated from his long-term partner, he is single for the first time in 18 years. Although nervous about being alone in a foreign country, and wondering if he will ever find another partner, he is rarely lonely. Thanks to the support offered by the fellowship, he is quickly introduced to a number of influential individuals including Masumi Muramatsu, the founder of Simul International, Japan’s “best-known school for interpreters”; Satoshi Fukushima, “a deaf-blind Tokyo University professor who runs Todai’s Barrier-Free Project”; and Mika Kimula, a singer who later puts Fries’ poems to music.
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