Kenny Fries embarks on a journey of profound self-discovery as a disabled foreigner in Japan, a society historically hostile to difference. As he visits gardens, experiences Noh and buoh, and meets artists and scholars, he also discovers disabled gods, one-eyed samurai, blind chanting priests, and A-bomb survivors. When he is diagnosed as HIV positive, all his assumptions about Japan, the body, and mortality, are shaken, and he must find a way to reenter life on new terms.
In The History of My Shoes and the Evolution of Darwin’s Theory, Kenny Fries tells us stories: the development of the theory of “survival of the fittest,” as articulated by Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace; and the history of his ever-changing, made-to-order, orthopedic shoes. The famously important first story, as told by Fries, is a colorful account of the race between Darwin and Wallace to formulate their groundbreaking theories. At the same time, Fries tells a deeply personal story of the evolving consciousness of his own “adaptations,” as represented by his shoes.
At 35, Kenny Fries wanted to discover what could be learned about the history of his body and the map of physical and psychic scars with which he had lived since infancy. There was no scientific name for the congenital deformities that affected the lower extremities of his body. “I know my past by knowing my scars,” Fries writes. “They do not exist only on my skin, but remain inscribed on the cortex of my brain, the section where memory is stored.” Just as his body had been reconstructed over countless surgeries, Fries sought to reconstruct a record of his disability. He turned to long-buried medical records, unearthed family secrets, and revisited the echoing memories of past relationships.”
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.
An opera commissioned by the Houston Grand Opera. After the March 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami, the powers of a mysterious woman who has appeared with a memory stone in Houston’s Japanese garden, cause two Japanese American women to relive a crucial moment from their past, and to bond over their ancestry as they question how they can support those who have been affected by the devastation of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan.