Polio Boulevard

A Memoir

By Karen Chase

Subjects: Memoir, Autobigraphy, Health And Society, New York/regional
Series: Excelsior Editions
Imprint: Excelsior Editions
Paperback : 9781438452821, 128 pages, September 2014

Alternative formats available from:

Table of contents

The Bus Back
This Is My Father Talking
Hospital Mail
Bowing Down
Water Is Complicated
This Is My Brother Talking
Hospital Snapshots
Inside the Whirlpool
Grandma Celia Mail
Take Things in Stride
Bustiers, Braces, and Noise
Try This
Clothes and Hair
The Swap
This Is Patsy Talking
Mr. Dark
The Cave

A unique chronicle of childhood polio told with a remarkable blend of provocative reflection, humor, and pluck.


Finalist for the 2015 Eric Hoffer Award presented by Hopewell Publications

In 1954, Karen Chase was a ten-year-old girl playing Monopoly in the polio ward when the radio blared out the news that Dr. Jonas Salk had developed the polio vaccine. The discovery came too late for her, and Polio Boulevard is Chase's unique chronicle of her childhood while fighting polio. From her lively sickbed she experiences puppy love, applies to the Barbizon School of Modeling, and dreams of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a polio patient who became President of the United States.

Chase, now an accomplished poet who survived her illness, tells a story that flows backward and forward in time from childhood to adulthood. Woven throughout are the themes of how private and public history get braided together, how imagination is shaped when your body can't move but your mind can, and how sexuality blooms in a young girl laid up in bed. Chase's imagination soars in this narrative of illness and recovery, a remarkable blend of provocative reflection, humor, and pluck.

Karen Chase is the author of two volumes of poetry: Kazimierz Square and Bear, as well as Land of Stone: Breaking Silence Through Poetry and Jamali-Kamali: A Tale of Passion in Mughal India.


"Karen Chase has written a charming book about [a] fraught subject. " — RALPH: The Review of Arts, Literature, Philosophy and the Humanities

"…[a] moving and illuminating memoir. " — History News Network

"…a moving and inspiring memoir … Her experience is detailed with unsparing accuracy, great artistry, in bright prose vignettes, and most of all, with a deep compassion in all the varied stories, including references to the story of Franklin Delano Roosevelt with whom Ms. Chase has an abiding bond. " — Berkshire Eagle

"…a touching memoir. " — BookTrib

"…[an] exquisitely written account. " — The Berkshire Edge

"…a vivid portrait of what it was like to grow up shadowed by a plague and how a sense of family can arise among people thrown together by miserable circumstances … Chase brings her poetic sensibilities to the page in discussions of the way history is not just huge wars and battles but small, personal skirmishes too … she elegantly conveys the experience of one small part of the world—her own—at a particular point in a much larger history. " — Library Journal

"Polio and poetry would seem to be near-opposites. Yet in Karen Chase's compelling memoir of a terrifying disease she and so many others contracted in childhood, we watch polio's unwelcome transformations to be matched and outdone by the twists and turns of a poet's mind. Bravely and with surprising humor, Chase has turned the unlikely, the unlucky, even the tragic into beauty. " — Mary Jo Salter

"In the early '50s, during the polio epidemic, I worked as a physical therapist. I saw firsthand the crushing suffering children and their families endured. I also saw their bravery and love for each other. Karen's memoir is a truly remarkable piece of history. " — Olympia Dukakis