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The second half of Uncle Tungsten: inspiration and writing


The Oaxaca Journal
Oliver Sacks Scientist
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When we were in Mexico City where people converged from Los Angeles and other places, I retrieved an as yet empty notebook from my case and I started writing. And at that point I had a certain feeling... I felt it was all of us together, but I felt they're them, and there’s me. They are my subjects, I am the writer. In fact, I wrote and kept a journal almost non-stop, and in front of people. Sometimes they would see their name on the page upside down and in front of them. Shamelessly, I kept a detailed journal.


And when I got back 10 days later... the... the meeting was beautiful. The farewells were sometimes rather painful, you know. There were people who...who were aging sometimes, and one felt one wouldn’t see them. And they’re going away in different places and it was almost like the breakup, I want to say, of the crew and the actors in the filming of Awakenings, or the breakup after finals at Oxford when we all went out into the world in our different directions. I transcribed the journal and... and it got published as a little book with a minimum of changes. There are whole pages of the published Oaxaca journal which are identical with the manuscript.

Oliver Sacks (1933-2015) was born in England. Having obtained his medical degree at Oxford University, he moved to the USA. There he worked as a consultant neurologist at Beth Abraham Hospital where in 1966, he encountered a group of survivors of the global sleepy sickness of 1916-1927. Sacks treated these patients with the then-experimental drug L-Dopa producing astounding results which he described in his book Awakenings. Further cases of neurological disorders were described by Sacks with exceptional sympathy in another major book entitled The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat which became an instant best seller on its publication in 1985. His other books drew on his rich experiences as a neurologist gleaned over almost five decades of professional practice. Sacks's work was recognized by prestigious institutions which awarded him numerous honours and prizes. These included the Lewis Thomas Prize given by Rockefeller University, which recognizes the scientist as poet. He was an honorary fellow of both the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and held honorary degrees from many universities, including Oxford, the Karolinska Institute, Georgetown, Bard, Gallaudet, Tufts, and the Catholic University of Peru.

Listeners: Kate Edgar

Kate Edgar, previously Managing Editor at the Summit Books division of Simon and Schuster, began working with Oliver Sacks in 1983. She has served as editor and researcher on all of his books, and has been closely involved with various films and adaptations based on his work. As friend, assistant, and collaborator, she has accompanied Dr Sacks on many adventures around the world, clinical and otherwise.

Tags: Oaxaca, Mexico City, Los Angeles, Awakenings

Duration: 1 minute, 59 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2011

Date story went live: 02 October 2012