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The written style of Witty Ticcy Ray


Being approached by Bob Silvers
Oliver Sacks Scientist
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In 1974, the year Awakenings was published in the States, I was approached by Bob Silvers, who was one of the editors and founders of The New York Review of Books. I’d heard many tales of him, not least from Jonathan Miller and from Susan Sontag, and many others, and I felt thrilled when he approached me to write something. I wrote... I’m sorry, I believe I have a date for him, I think it must have been 1976, because what I wrote was about two patients with Tourette’s syndrome, Witty Ticcy Ray, which I had not written at the time, and another patient... oh, who had an extremely complex, extraordinary form of Tourette’s. The other patient was uncomfortable with my publishing anything about him, and so I withdrew the article, which was already in proof, and I... I think this may have upset Bob a bit, and it upset me, but things happen. I then did not have any contact with Bob for, I guess seven years, but in 1983 I had a birthday party. It was my 50th birthday; I hadn’t had a birthday party since I was 21. I didn’t even acknowledge birthdays. But I... I lived then on City Island in the Bronx, and I had a birthday party.

We put up a big marquee in the garden, all sorts of people came, and timidly I invited Bob Silvers, and to my amazement, he came. And this really was the launching… after an abortive start in '76, this was the launching of a relationship, both personal and professional, which has certainly been very, very important for me.

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: Robert B Silvers

Duration: 2 minutes, 25 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2011

Date story went live: 02 October 2012