Greetings here as promised, a great new interview with author, poet and disability rights activist Kenny Fries. Kenny Fries is the author of The History of My Shoes and the Evolution of Darwin's Theory (Carroll and Graf, 2007), Body, Remember: A Memoir (Dutton, 1997; Plume paperback, 1998; new edition, University of Wisconsin Press, 2003) and editor of Staring Back: The Disability Experience from the Inside Out (Plume, 1997). His books of poems include Desert Walking: Poems (The Advocado Press, 2000) and Anesthesia: Poems (The Advocado Press, 1996). He received a 2009 Creative Capital grant in Innovative Litearature, the 2007 Gustavus Myers Outstanding Book Award, the Gregory Kolovakos Award, a Creative Arts Fellowship from the Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission and the National Endowment, and was a Fulbright Scholar to Japan. He teaches in the MFA in Creative Writing Program at Goddard College.

Kenny, thanks so much for joining us today. Would you mind talking a little about a particular opportunity that came early in your career, and how it affected you and your work?

My first residency was at the Millay Colony for the Arts in 1988. I left a job to go away to Millay for a month to write and it is this experience that enabled me to understand my writing process and take my life as a writer more seriously. Since then, writing has been at the center of most, if not all, of my life decisions. Because of this, and because Ann-Ellen Lesser, the former director at Millay, was devoted to building a universally designed accessible building so all writers and artists could be in residence, the Millay Colony will always be a special place for me.

I remember when that building opened. I went to the tour with you! I was pretty excited to see an art colony create such an accessible site. I hope to go back someday. Anyway, besides Millay, you've stayed at so many residencies/art colonies over the years, Kenny. Would you mind telling us about one or two of your favorite places and why they were so important to you?

Besides Millay, the most important residency at an artist colony for me has been my times at The MacDowell Colony. I finished both of my nonfiction books, Body, Remember, and The History of My Shoes and the Evolution of Darwin's Theory at MacDowell. The other opportunity that singly changed the course of my life, was being a Creative Arts Fellow of the Japan/US Friendship Commission and the National Endowment of the Arts in 2002. My time in Japan led to lifelong friendships with Japanese colleagues, has influenced my work immensely and gave me a place I think of as a second home. I was glad to return to Japan as a Fulbright Scholar a few years later. I happened to meet Mike, my Canadian husband, who was teaching English in Japan at the time. So, that first grant to live and work in Japan changed the course of my life in that way, as well.

Since you are disabled and have been a resident at many artist colonies, you would know more than most which ones are the most accessible. What places do you think are particularly sensitive to the needs of disabled artists? How would you like to see art colonies change in the future, in terms of accessibility?

That's a difficult question to answer since every disability has its own issues, so I can only answer that question as it pertains to my disability, which also has created different issues at different times. Perhaps, the Millay Colony's universally designed building makes a stay at Millay easiest. However, over the years MacDowell has worked on becoming as accessible as possible and the staff is great about accessiblity. Yaddo has become more and more aware of access needs and will be putting in an elevator in a building that recently had a fire, so it will become even more accessible. Many artist colonies are in historic, old buildings, so making these places accessible to all takes leadership on the part of the different directors and Boards. But we must remember that because of the Americans with Disabilities Act, artist colonies must be accessible, so those with disabilities should ask for what they need and work with the places who just don't yet get it.

Any suggestions for my readers who are disabled or who need emergency funding due to sudden medical problems?

Emergency funds have helped me out a lot at various points in my career. If you truly need help due to an emergency, by all means apply. The PEN American Center has an emergency fund for writers and The Author's Guild has an interest-free loan emergency fund. All of these funds have different requirements. A while ago, I published an article in Poets and Writers that dealt with emergency funds and most of the places I talked about in the article are still helping out writers and artists with emergency needs. If you apply, be honest about why you need the funds and ask for what you need.

Kenny, would you mind telling us a little more about the NEA program you did in Japan?

The program is run through an NEA panel but is sponsored by the Japan/US Friendship Commission. Each year five artists from all genres (writers, choreographers, visual artists, filmmakers, etc.) are chosen to spend five months (it used to be six months!) in Japan. They provide an ample stipend, and even though you're mostly on your own, the staff in Japan are good at setting you up with contacts, etc. You need to have a specific project and a specific reason for being in Japan. Since my grant, I've been on the selection panels, and it is a highly competitive grant. But if you have a good project, a good track record, and a good reason for going to Japan, apply. Nothing to lose. I was quite surprised I received the grant, and as I said before, this grant was truly a life-changer in many ways. I'm still working on a project with a Japanese singer and composer, which I began when I was in Japan on this grant. Information can be found at

Thanks for that info. I'm sure some of my readers will want to check out that program. Anyway, I absolutely loved your last book, The History of My Shoes and the Evolution of Darwin's Theory. Please tell our readers what your book is about and also what you are working on right now.

The book tells both the story of how Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace forged the theory of natural selection, as well as the story of my specially-made orthopedic shoes, which I need to get around. The two stories come together as, over the course of the book, my shoes become a metaphor for adaptation and variation. The book took me eight years to write! I'm hoping my new book, Genkan: Entries into Japan, doesn't take that long! This book uses my extensive research in Japan, as well as my time in Japan, to look at how Japanese culture/society deals with difference and "otherness." Last January, I received a grant for innovative literature from the Creative Capital Foundation ( to support work on this book. What a godsend!

Kenny, thanks so much for your time and for sharing some of your experiences. I wish you the best of luck on your next book and look forward to seeing you next time you're in the area. Let's meet for danishes in New York!

For more information on Kenny and his work, please visit his website at: And don't forget to check out his great books, which you can buy here, directly from Mira's List:

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