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In Memoriam: Sherwin Nuland

March 05, 2014

The staff of the Bellevue Literary Review mourns the passing of Dr. Sherwin B. Nuland—surgeon, writer, and humanist nonpareil. He was an early and active supporter of the BLR, and a member of our editorial board. He contributed the Foreword to our anthology, The Best of the Bellevue Literary Review, and was a tireless champion of the idea that the literature had a unique power to mine medicine’s mysteries. Shep Nuland’s intense experiences with illness in himself, his family, and his patients shaped a doggedly honest literary voice. His seminal book How We Die shed much-needed light on a topic that has long engendered deep societal anxiety. Death can be messy, humiliating, and decidedly undignified. Rather, he concluded, “[t]he dignity we seek in dying must be found in the dignity with which we have lived our lives.” Shep Nuland exemplified the dignified life. He will be sorely missed.

Read Dr. Nuland's obituary in the New York Times.

Watch his TED talks: "How electroshock therapy changed me" and "The extraordinary power of ordinary people"

More about Dr. Nuland's book, How We Die: Reflections on Life's Final Chapter


From Dr. Nuland's foreword in The Best of the BLR:

We write for any, and often several, of a multitude of reasons. Those who heal and those who would be healed—patients, family members, doctors, nurses, medical students, technologists, social workers, everyone—need some way to express what they are feeling. To write about feelings is to bring them forth from some inner place into a form in which they can be seen with perhaps less of the passion of the moment, and with more equanimity. Triumph and tragedy need distance, if their meaning is to become incorporated into the wisdom we hope to gain from the events of our lives. Writing about one’s own or another’s experience of illness is very much like the literary form it often takes, namely poetry, described by Wordsworth as being, “emotion recollected in tranquility.” Yet, some of the finest of both prose and poetry have been created when the writer is not yet tranquil, and still feeling the untamed and amorphous torrent of what is being described. Once on the page, though, it becomes more a thing of substance and shape, more accessible, more governable—and therefore more a thing from which truths can be learned, both by ourselves and our readers.


Sherwin Nuland