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The Clock Runs Backwards


Writing an autobiography in poetry form
Carl Djerassi Scientist
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And then I decided to write an autobiography in poetry form, long before I ever thought I would write an autobiography in this form. That was 1983, for my 60th birthday. And I attended a 60th birthday celebration here in London, at Oxford which was probably the biggest thing that I ever attended and it was the 60th birthday celebration of someone else who became 60 just a few months before me. So I anticipated it. And that was Robert Maxwell’s 60th birthday party and it was so large that there had to be two successive days, and each time there were 800 people at Oxford, and I of course was a house guest at their estate at Headington Hill. That was written right there in the white heat of that particular birthday. And that was called The Clock Runs Backward, and that became the title of the entire collection. And I will read it to you, and then we’ll take a break because that is probably the way you wanted to hold this interview. Because that is a chronological account of my life, but told backwards. And that’s why it’s called The Clock Runs Backwards, but nevertheless all you have to do is play it back the other way and you’ve got it.

So I’ll read it to you, and the only thing you have to know is that the first line is, at his 60th birthday party... that’s Robert Maxwell. Now, of course, it doesn’t say that here, but there’s no reason to hide it. I give away no trade secrets, so to speak... or personal secrets.

Austrian-American Carl Djerassi (1923-2015) was best known for his work on the synthesis of the steroid cortisone and then of a progesterone derivative that was the basis of the first contraceptive pill. He wrote a number of books, plays and poems, in the process inventing a new genre, 'science-in-fiction', illustrated by the novel 'Cantor's Dilemma' which explores ethics in science.

Listeners: Tamara Tracz

Tamara Tracz is a writer and filmmaker based in London.

Tags: Oxford, The Clock Runs Backward, Headington Hill Hall, Ian Robert Maxwell

Duration: 2 minutes

Date story recorded: September 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008