Forty years ago today, the first edition of Awakenings was published in England. It was the second book by a little-known doctor, Oliver Sacks (the first was Migraine), and it told the extraordinary Rip-van-Winkle story that would inspire so many readers and quite a few dramatic adaptations, including a Hollywood film starring Robin Williams and Robert De Niro, a one-act play by Harold Pinter, a ballet composed by Tobias Picker, and a short film by Bill Morrison and Philip Glass. Awakenings continues to inspire people around the world with the courage of these long-forgotten people immersed in the most profound illness and then reemerging into life.
Dr. Sacks says, “It took me several years to write Awakenings; it was not easy, so I was very relieved and happy when I finally had the proofs in my hands. My publisher wanted to defer the book’s publication so that excerpts of it could appear in the Sunday Times [of London], but I was adamant–I wanted it out before my fortieth birthday, so that I could say, ‘I may be forty, and it may be downhill from here, but at least I have done something: I have written Awakenings.'”
Now, forty years later, Dr. Sacks is about to turn 80. On July 9, 2013, he will celebrate–besides a birthday party and a swim, he will almost certainly spend a good part of the day working on his next book. To which we say, “Write On!”
PS: Check out encore presentations of this year’s New York Live Ideas festival devoted to “The Worlds of Oliver Sacks.” (Click on Videos and scroll sideways to see different events.) The festival included a number of new works of art inspired by Awakenings, as well as the world premiere of “A Kind of Alaska” in American Sign Language.