Kenny Fries was born on September 22, 1960, in Brooklyn, New York, to Donald and Joan Fries, a lower-middle-class Jewish couple. Donald was a kosher butcher, and Joan a housewife. At his birth Fries’s grandmother ran screaming through the hospital yelling, “A freak, a freak, my daughter gave birth to a freak!” referring to the severe deformities of Fries’s lower extremities. At birth “each leg was no bigger than his (father’s) finger; each leg was twisted like a pretzel; each leg had no arch to separate leg from foot” (Body, Remember 6). He spent his first six weeks in the hospital, four of those in an incubator.
Sexual and physical abuse within the family further complicated Fries’s search for self-identity and peace and helped forge his fearlessness as a writer. Nevertheless, his parents’ love and acceptance has aided him throughout his evolution as an artist. A deep connectedness to his father, not without some conflict itself, was critical to his ability to face the difficulties confronting him.
Fries’s childhood details a litany of surgeries that (especially through those by gifted orthopedic surgeon Dr. Joseph Milgram) allowed Fries to walk and to have relatively normal mobility for the first forty years of his life. His physical disabilities and the psychological problems originating from them, familial dysfunctions, and the societal conflicts of being Jewish and gay became the sources of his work as a poet, playwright, memoirist, and national spokesperson for disability issues. Now as he approaches middle age, the physical stress placed on his knees has begun taking its toll. Less mobile but ever forthright in facing hardship, he writes frequently about disability and the emotional illness that has periodically crippled him.
Fries holds an M.F.A. from Columbia University’s School for the Arts (1983)