The Queen Mother of Gnarly” —At age 10 she was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. Despite numerous surgeries during high school, she was educated in the public school system and received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in psychology from the University of California, Berkeley.
A pioneer in the disability arts and culture movement, Wade’s in-your-face style of writing and performing challenged disability-related stereotypes and misconceptions.
In 1985, Wade founded Wry Crips, a theater group that presented poetry, skits, and dramatic readings written and performed exclusively by women with disabilities. Judith Smith, the artistic director for AXIS Dance Company, was in Wry Crips with Wade during its early years. Smith says Wade was a powerhouse in the group and influenced many young women with disabilities. “She was an incredible mentor for the young women who came through Wry Crips,” she says.
Smith considers Wade to be a groundbreaking figure in the disability culture and arts movement because her narrative style was unique. “It was very bold and unapologetic,” Smith says. “She said how she felt and got her point across with a lot of humor — and sometimes some biting sarcasm.”
In 1989, Wade left Wry Crips to purse a solo career. She created and performed in two solo shows: A Woman with Juice, and Sassy Girl: Memoirs of a Poster Child Gone Awry. Sassy Girl was showcased at the prestigious Mark Taper Forum’s New Works Festival. Wade was also a founding member of AXIS Dance Company.
She was one of the first performers with disabilities to make effective use of video, producing many award-winning videos, including Here, Body Talk, and Disability Culture Rap — which won best of festival at the Superfest International Film Festival. Her thoughtful and witty poetry and writings were published in Ms. Magazine, New Mobility, Mouth Magazine and The Disability Rag.