The vividly told, gloriously illustrated memoir of an artist born with disabilities who searches for freedom and connection in a society afraid of strange bodies
“Golem Girl is luminous; a profound portrait of the artist as a young—and mature—woman; an unflinching social history of disability over the last six decades; and a hymn to life, love, family, and spirit.”—David Mitchell, author of Cloud Atlas WINNER OF THE BARBELLION PRIZE • FINALIST FOR THE NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD FOR AUTOBIOGRAPHY • NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY KIRKUS REVIEWS
What do we sacrifice in the pursuit of normalcy? And what becomes possible when we embrace monstrosity? Can we envision a world that sees impossible creatures?
In 1958, amongst the children born with spina bifida is Riva Lehrer. At the time, most such children are not expected to survive. Her parents and doctors are determined to "fix" her, sending the message over and over again that she is broken. That she will never have a job, a romantic relationship, or an independent life. Enduring countless medical interventions, Riva tries her best to be a good girl and a good patient in the quest to be cured.
Everything changes when, as an adult, Riva is invited to join a group of artists, writers, and performers who are building Disability Culture. Their work is daring, edgy, funny, and dark—it rejects tropes that define disabled people as pathetic, frightening, or worthless. They insist that disability is an opportunity for creativity and resistance. Emboldened, Riva asks if she can paint their portraits—inventing an intimate and collaborative process that will transform the way she sees herself, others, and the world. Each portrait story begins to transform the myths she’s been told her whole life about her body, her sexuality, and other measures of normal.
Written with the vivid, cinematic prose of a visual artist, and the love and playfulness that defines all of Riva's work, Golem Girl is an extraordinary story of tenacity and creativity. With the author's magnificent portraits featured throughout, this memoir invites us to stretch ourselves toward a world where bodies flow between all possible forms of what it is to be human.
“Not your typical memoir about ‘what it’s like to be disabled in a non-disabled world’ . . . Lehrer tells her stories about becoming the monster she was always meant to be: glorious, defiant, unbound, and voracious. Read it!”—Alice Wong, founder and director, Disability Visibility Project
About the Author
Riva Lehrer is an artist, writer, and curator whose work focuses on issues of physical identity and the socially challenged body. She is best known for representations of people with impairments, and those whose sexuality or gender identity have long been stigmatized. A longtime faculty member of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Riva Lehrer is currently an instructor in medical humanities at Northwestern University.
“[A] penetrating and razor-witted debut . . . Brainy . . . sexy and soulful, Lehrer’s writing exhibits the force of will needed to make one’s way in a culture where, ‘If it’s medically possible to push a body toward that social ideal, then we make it a moral imperative to do so.’ . . . With vast ambition and the skill to match, Lehrer examines learning on every level—learning to live, to forgive, to create, to love, and to become a part of various communities: familial, queer, disabled and artistic. . . . Packed with photographs of her own life as well as about fifty reproductions of her brilliant portraiture, this daring opus stands as a fittingly visual testament to the ‘radical visibility’ she advocates as a teacher and a person—a beautiful meditation on monstrousness, bodies and the souls they contain.”—Minneapolis StarTribune
“This searing personal history expands Lehrer’s project of looking at our bodies inside and out, in all their queerness, fragility, and strength, into a stunning new dimension.”—Alison Bechdel, author of Fun Home
“Like Patti Smith and Sally Mann, Lehrer opens a vein and spills wisdom and humor, lyricism, and conviction onto the page. She teaches us with images and words that all bodies are exquisite, just as they are. Lehrer’s life and art is an example of the deepest creativity and resistance.”—Ayelet Waldman, author of A Really Good Day
“Riva Lehrer is a great artist and a great storyteller. This is a brilliant book, full of strangeness, beauty, and wonder.”—Audrey Niffenegger, author of The Time Traveler’s Wife
“Vivid and unforgettable . . . It is the story of how someone who is fundamentally different made not a life that transcends that difference, but a life that lionizes it. This book expands our notion of what constitutes the human experience, and it does so with generosity and openheartedness.”—Andrew Solomon, author of Far From the Tree
“With deft painter’s prose, Riva Lehrer helps us discover what it is to be human when others see us as broken. In Golem Girl, Lehrer gives us the gift, at long last, of our own crip beauty.”—Nicola Griffith, author of Hild
“Lehrer’s story is a revelation of an inner subjective life—full of tragedy, love, and creativity—pushing against the external social stigmas, cultural narratives, and prejudices surrounding disability.”—Stephen Asma, author of On Monsters: An Unnatural History of Our Worst Fears
“A wincing-wise tale, by turns harrowing and hilarious, cut clean through with flecks of grace and beauty.”—Lawrence Weschler, author of Seeing Is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees