Oliver Wolf Sacks was born in London on July 9, 1933. He died just over 82 years later at his home in New York City, as one of the world’s best-read neurologists.
As he approached death from cancer in 2015, Sacks wrote in The New York Times of his gratitude to have been “a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet”.
I have loved and been loved; I have been given much and I have given something in return; I have read and traveled and thought and written. I have had an intercourse with the world, the special intercourse of writers and readers.”
Those who delighted in the work of Sacks and his fountain pen may be interested in a new book by his partner, Bill Hayes, Insomniac City: New York, Oliver, and Me.
Sacks once told an interviewer that he would like to be remembered for listening carefully to what patients and others had told him, and for bearing witness (the comments were cited in an obituary in 2015).
Perhaps Hayes has now performed a similar service for Sacks, in bearing witness to his life and work, as well as their relationship (which began with an exchange of correspondence) and New York City.
The Guardian has published an extract from his book, which many Croakey readers may appreciate.
Hayes writes that Sacks “was without a doubt the most unusual person I had ever known, and before long I found myself not just falling in love with O; it was something more, something I had never experienced before. I adored him.”
He describes a “remarkable” lunch that the couple shared with the Icelandic artist Björk at her home in Reykjavík, where she revealed that the name of her Biophilia project was inspired by Sacks’s book, Musicophilia.
On 22 April 2015, Hayes recorded this observation by Sacks: “The most we can do is to write – intelligently, creatively, critically, evocatively – about what it is like living in the world at this time.”
Hayes told The Guardian that he felt able to write about their lives together because Sacks had published his autobiography, On the Move, in May 2015, three months before his death.
Hayes said: “Prior to that, Oliver had never spoken or written at all about his private life and his decision to do so gently opened a door, allowing me to write about my life with him in a way I am not sure I would have or could have had he not done that.”
(And a note to our readers who enjoy writing – we would welcome a review for publication at Croakey.)