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Venus on Wheels: Two Decades of Dialogue on Disability, Biography, and Being Female in America [Paperback]

Gelya Frank

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Book Description

May 30 2000
In 1976 Gelya Frank began writing about the life of Diane DeVries, a woman born with all the physical and mental equipment she would need to live in our society--except arms and legs. Frank was 28 years old, DeVries 26. This remarkable book--by turns moving, funny, and revelatory--records the relationship that developed between the women over the next twenty years. An empathic listener and participant in DeVries's life, and a scholar of the feminist and disability rights movements, Frank argues that Diane DeVries is a perfect example of an American woman coming of age in the second half of the twentieth century. By addressing the dynamics of power in ethnographic representation, Frank--anthropology's leading expert on life history and life story methods--lays the critical groundwork for a new genre, "cultural biography."

Challenged to examine the cultural sources of her initial image of DeVries as limited and flawed, Frank discovers that DeVries is gutsy, buoyant, sexy--and definitely not a victim. While she analyzes the portrayal of women with disabilities in popular culture--from limbless circus performers to suicidal heroines on the TV news--Frank's encounters with DeVries lead her to come to terms with her own "invisible disabilities" motivating the study. Drawing on anthropology, philosophy, psychoanalysis, narrative theory, law, and the history of medicine, Venus on Wheels is an intellectual tour de force.

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From Booklist

Libraries serving communities with active disability-rights movements and those where current anthropology circulates will want Frank's challenging but instructive "cultural biography" of Diane DeVries on their shelves. University of Southern California professor Frank is just two years older than DeVries; she's been writing about her since 1976, when Frank was a graduate student at the University of California at Los Angeles and DeVries was a 26-year-old undergraduate there. DeVries is bright, funny, sexy--and has no arms or legs. Frank combines ethnography and life history to broaden her (and her readers') understanding of DeVries and DeVries' culture; she discusses the challenges of telling (without taking over) DeVries' narrative, and thus places her work in the context of current controversies within anthropology (as well as phenomenology and postmodernism). But what centers Venus on Wheels is the story of Diane DeVries, a young woman who has made her own decisions ever since she determined as a child to reject the prostheses which her doctors recommended. A fascinating tale. Mary Carroll
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"A scholarly life story."--"Chicago Tribune

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In 1976 I began writing about the life of Diane DeVries, a woman born with all the physical and mental equipment she would need to live in our society-except arms and legs. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.8 out of 5 stars  4 reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not what I expected, but still good April 19 2010
By Meredith Peruzzi - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition
I expected a lot more about Diane DeVries in this book. Although the cover describes the book as being about "disability, biography, and being female in America" it is really more about the practice of writing biographies and life histories. Diane's life is examined only tangentially; although there is a substantial amount of information about her, the real focus of the book is on sociology and anthropology and how they help us interpret life histories. I chose this book as my independent reading for a women's history course (it was one of several options given by the instructor) but I really feel it would be more appropriate for a sociology course, particularly sociology of gender or sociology of disability.
5.0 out of 5 stars thought provoking and fascinating Sept. 22 2012
By J. Campbell Exp - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I devoured this book, it was quite riveting. It brings a lot of the hidden attitudes we all harbour about ablebodiedness more into the open where we can start to explore and examine them. It is written with both compassion and candor.
5.0 out of 5 stars Angel On Wheels Dec 13 2011
By Sheri Perkins - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I ordered this book because the "angel" is my cousin.
The book offered a very insightful view of Diane's life
and acceptance of her handicap.
I remember the first time she explained it to me.
She said," if I had been born with arms and legs, I would miss
them, but this is normal to me because it's all I know."
Inspirational !!
2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing to me. July 6 2009
By E. Walton - Published on
From reading the excerpt provided in the 'Look Inside" feature, I thought it would be more of a biographical study of Diane. Instead it was more of a sociology thesis about different theories, ways of writing sociological material, and why certain words are used. There was much, much more of the latter and much less of the former.

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