In September 1955 six-year-old Mark O'Brien moved his arms and legs for the last time. He came out of a 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.
For the first time in paperback, How I Became a Human Being is O'Brien's account of his struggles to lead an independent life despite a lifelong disability. In 1955 he contracted polio and became permanently paralysed from the neck down. O'Brien describes growing up 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 physical limitations, O'Brien crafts a narrative that is as rich and vivid as the life he led.
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.
Preface Prologue 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)