Columbia University Medical Center

English Patient Author To Teach At College Of Physcians & Surgeons

Program in Narrative Medicine to host novelist and poet Michael Ondaatje
as writer-in-residence

NEW YORK, N.Y., October 25, 2000 — Michael Ondaatje, author of the best-selling book and academy award-winning film “The English Patient,” will teach two intensive literature seminars to faculty physicians and medical students this fall at Columbia University’s College of Physicians & Surgeons (P&S). As writer-in-residence, the author will introduce faculty and students to works of fiction and poetry that relate illness and medicine to ordinary human life.
Ondaatje’s continuum of work examines the meanings of illness, pain, loss, and healing. His new novel “Anil’s Ghost,” for example, follows a pathologist’s work in a Sri Lankan refugee camp. It is this interest in medicine that first led him to P&S earlier this year when he delivered a lecture, hosted by the P&S Program in Narrative Medicine and the Walker Percy Society. At the time, he visited an anatomy lab, attended grand rounds, and toured pediatric and neonatal ICUs. During his semester this fall at P&S, Ondaatje will continue this observational work with several medical departments to witness the interactions of Columbia physicians with their patients in clinics, operating rooms, and ICUs.
The Writer-in-Residence Program at P&S seeks to strengthen the skills of doctors and students in beholding and appreciating the human gravity and meaning of all that goes on around them. “What better preparation for doing the work of medicine than to learn how to see and to value the meaning of what we see?” asks Dr. Rita Charon, internist and literary scholar who directs the program. “Ondaatje will endow us with new skills of perception and interpretation, showing us anew what goes on within our gaze.”
The first seminar began meeting Wednesday afternoons, Oct. 4, from 4:30 to 6 p.m., continuing through Nov. 1. The second seminar will meet on Tuesday afternoons, Nov. 7 through Dec. 12, at the same time. Throughout the series, Ondaatje will invite colleagues—Joan Didion and Paul Auster, for example—to visit P&S and to read from their works.

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