Following in the footsteps of Jane Goodall and Toni Morrison MFA ’55, Dr. Oliver Sacks, a neurologist and noted author, will visit Cornell for the next week and a half as an Andrew Dickson White Professor-at-Large.
Sacks will be on campus from Sept. 9 through Sept. 20 and as a Professor-at-large, is considered a full member of the Cornell faculty. At any time, 20 Professors-at-Large come to enliven the intellectual and cultural life of the University.
Best known for his books Awakenings and The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, Sacks will hold two lectures and participate in several classes, which will cover a broad range of topics, during his visit.
Sacks, who “comes across as a very warm, compassionate and literary individual,” according to Gerri Jones, administrator of the Andrew Dickson White Professor-at-Large program, will participate in the freshman writing seminar, Comparative Literature 133, Expressing the Inexpressible: Literature and Art at the Extremes, in which students read his work on deafness, Seeing Voices.
Although not all his books deal with science and disease, “[Sacks] has a way of enlivening science,” said Roald Hoffmann, the Frank H.T. Rhodes Professor of humane letters and of chemistry, who is Sacks’ faculty sponsor.
“He’s also one of the great science writers of our times,” Hoffmann added.
In addition, Sacks will discuss the portrayal of abnormalities and monsters in Greek mythology in a classics course and participate in cognitive neuroscience and clinical neurobiology classes. He will also visit plant science and veterinary college laboratories where he will be shown an animal model of color blindness, among other things.
“He has many interests. That is why he makes such a great Professor-at-Large,” Jones said.
According to Hoffmann, there were plans to have Sacks visit additional departments, but his schedule could not permit the adjustments.
“He’s an extremely popular person,” Hoffmann said.
Sacks’ visit will begin with a Cornell Cinema showing on Sept. 9 in Willard Straight Hall of Awakenings, an Oscar-nominated movie starring Robin Williams and Robert De Niro.
The movie is based on Sacks’ book Awakenings, which depicts how he treated the survivors of the worldwide outbreak of “sleeping sickness,” an epidemic that lasted from 1916 to 1927 and left the survivors in a catatonic state.
Using the Parkinson’s drug L-dopa, the patients were “awakened” in the summer of 1969 after decades in a semi-paralytic state, but eventually relapsed.
At the showing of the movie, 100 tickets will be distributed for a lecture on Sept. 13.
At the Sept. 13 lecture entitled “Neurology and the Soul: The Real ‘Awakenings,'” Sacks will discuss his real work with the patients who suffered from the “sleeping sickness” in Statler Auditorium at 7:30 p.m. and will include a showing of the original “Awakenings,” a 40-minute documentary made for British television in 1973 but never show on American television. Students and general audience can pick up additional tickets at community centers and at the Clinton House box office.
On Sept. 20, Sacks will lead a colloquium entitled “Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood.” The colloquium is open to the public and will address the subject of Sacks’ soon-to-be-published book, a memoir describing his childhood love of chemistry.
Born in London, Sacks received his medical degree at Oxford University. In the early 1960’s, he moved to the United States where he is clinical professor of neurology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, adjunct professor of neurology at the New York University School of Medicine and a consultant neurologist to the Little Sisters of the Poor and at Beth Abraham Hospital.
Sacks received several prizes and awards, and is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. His work has been translated into 22 languages.
Archived article by Luke Hejnar