How I Became a Human Being: A Disabled Man's Quest for Independence

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"September 1955. Six-year-old Mark O'Brien moved his arms and legs for the last time. He came out of a thirty-day coma to find himself enclosed from the neck down in an iron lung, the machine in which he would live for much of the rest of his life." "How I Became a Human Being is Mark O'Brien's account of his struggles to lead an independent life despite a lifelong disability. In 1955, he contracted polio and became permanently paralyzed from the neck down. O'Brien describes his childhood without the use of his limbs, his adolescence struggling with physical rehabilitation and suffering the bureaucracy of hospitals and institutions, and his adult life as an independent student and writer. Despite his weak physical state, O'Brien attended graduate school, explored his sexuality, fell in love, published poetry, and worked as a journalist. A determined writer, O'Brien used a mouthstick to type each word." O'Brien's story does not beg for sympathy. It is rather a day-to-day account of his reality - the life he crafted and maintained with a good mind, hired attendants, decent legislation for disabled people in California, and support from the University of California at Berkeley. He describes the ways in which a paralyzed person takes care of the body, mind, and heart. What mattered most was his writing, the people he loved, his belief in God, and his belief in himself.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“O’Brien conveys his pain, his suffering, his depression, his anomie—without resorting to tugging at our heartstrings.”—Felice Picano, author of Like People in History
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780299184308
  • Publisher: University of Wisconsin Press
  • Publication date: 3/28/2003
  • Series: Wisconsin Studies in Autobiography Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 278
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Mark O’Brien was a published poet and cofounder of the Lemonade Factory. He died in 1999 at the age of forty-nine just after completing a draft of How I Became a Human Being. Gillian Kendall is author of Mr. Ding’s Chicken Feet: On a Slow Boat from Shanghai to Texas and editor of Something to Declare: Good Lesbian Travel Writing, also published by the University of Wisconsin Press.

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Table of Contents


Part 1: Dependent
1 Dorchester (1949-1955)
2 Polio (1955-1957)
3 Stoughton (1957-1966)
4 The Move (January-April 1966)
5 Sacramento (1966-1976)
6 Kaiser (September 1976)
7 Fairmont (September 1976-September 1978)

Part 2: Independent
8 Year One (September 1978-June 1979)
9 English Major (June 1979-December 1980)
10 Fiat Lux (January 1981-June 1982)
11 Graduate School (July 1982-June 1983)
12 A Berkeley Life (June 1983-July 1991)
13 The Sex Surrogate (1985)
14 Poet and Journalist (circa 1983-1995)
15 The Blue Terror (July-August 1991)

Afterword (August 1991-May 1997)

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