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Eric Korn's memory for poetry


Forming a school literary society with Jonathan Miller and Eric Korn
Oliver Sacks Scientist
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The three of us became very close at school, and the three of us founded a literary society.  I, although I was the least literate of the three of us, I think became president, Jonathan was the secretary, and Eric was the treasurer. And this literary society was inexcusably successful.  We attracted larger and larger numbers of people at our meetings, whereas the school’s existing Milton Society got emptier and emptier, and finally by an edict the high master... I’m blocked, now, I want... I’ve forgotten his initials... obviously he was not MR James... the high master, Dr James, brought me in, summoned me one day and said, 'Sacks, you don’t exist'.  He was referring to the literary society. And I said, 'What do you mean, we don’t exist?'  He said, 'You’re annulled', and I said, 'You can’t do that, sir'.  And he said, 'I can do what I want, Sacks'.  And so the literary society – and I can’t help thinking, although I’m not sensitive to notions of anti-Semitism, but we may have been a lot of noisy, clever Jewish boys as opposed to the discreet, virtually silent members of... of the Milton Society – anyhow, we were... we were annulled, but not before we had brought out a magazine called The Prickly Pear, which was cyclostyled, or however they did things, in purple ink.

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: St Paul's School, The Prickly Pear, The Milton Society, Jonathan Miller, Eric Korn

Duration: 2 minutes, 3 seconds

Date story recorded: 19-23 September, 2011

Date story went live: 02 October 2012