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Leonard Kriegel, 89: Writings Catalyzed Discussion of Disability

Leonard Kriegel, an American memoirist and essayist whose work blazed with rage at the loss of the use of his legs to polio, died on Sept. 25 in Manhattan. He was 89.

The cause was heart failure, his son Mark said on Tuesday.

An academic and literary critic who taught for many years at the City College of New York, Mr. Kriegel was known for scholarly and popular writings that examined large historical phenomena (the struggles of the labor movement, the social construction of masculinity, the treatment of disabled people) at the level of the individual life — often his own.

“When Kriegel seizes rhetorical authority, he can challenge readers in ways pundits can’t, by remaining true to his own experiences,” a critic for The Antioch Review wrote in 1999, reviewing his largely autobiographical essay collection “Flying Solo: Reimagining Manhood, Courage, and Loss,” published the year before.

Mr. Kriegel, whose essays appeared in The New York Times, The Nation and elsewhere, first came to wide attention in 1964 with a full-length memoir, “The Long Walk Home.”

In it, he wrote unflinchingly of having contracted polio at 11, the painstaking odyssey of relearning to walk with crutches and leg braces and, most notably, his enduring anger.

“The loss of my legs enraged me,” Mr. Kriegel later wrote. “It would always enrage me. And I would never get used to it. Its arbitrariness, its naked proclamation of what I could and could not do, of what I could never again do, its failure to allow me compensation for what had been so brusquely taken.”

Mr. Kriegel recalled telling his wife that he wanted “The Long Walk Home” to be “free of the sentimentality and cant and papier-mâché religiosity usually found in such books.”

Read entire article at New York Times