Talk by Abraham Verghese

nav_babelLast week, as an early birthday present from my mother-in-law, I attended a talk by Abraham Verghese, part of the Just Buffalo Literary Center’s Babel series. I enjoyed the talk quite a bit. The audience filled up most of the ground floor at Kleinhans in Buffalo, NY. No one came away disappointed, since Verghese is an amusing speaker who kept the audience’s attention with humor and stories from his life.

The night was broken into two parts. For the first half hour or so, Verghese spoke to us about his life, how he became a physician, the lessons he’s learned from that job, and how he became a writer as well as a physician. One of Verghese’s first jobs was in a small city in Tennessee in the 1980s, at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic. From these patients, he learned how to empathize with a patient, and what to do when the medicine fails. He eventually became a writer because “medicine was too cold to address the humanity of suffering.”

The second half of the night consisted of Verghese answering questions from the audience and his interviewer. We learned some details on his writing craft. For instance, his overall writing style (he just starts writing and sees where the story takes him). Also, he has a day job he’s passionate about and out of that passion, he finds the ability to write. Luckily, Stanford (where he currently works) treats his writing as research.

He did provide a couple of details about Cutting for Stone. For one thing, the title refers to itinerant surgeons in the Middle Ages who could remove bladder stones with minimal damage to a patient (although they probably died of sepsis). He wanted the title to be slightly mysterious. He had chosen the title early on in the writing process, and eventually changed the Doctors’ names to Stone to match.

Finally, he closed with some hints about the next book he’s writing. It is not a sequel to Cutting for Stone. Instead, the book is set in South India and has a female spinal surgeon as the protagonist. Don’t hold your breath for its publication date, though. Since he’s privileged with such a good day job, Verghese plans to take his time to ensure the story is a good one before bringing it to publication.

Overall, it was an interesting night. I’d consider attending another author talk as part of the series. The 2014/2015 season was announced, but I don’t recognize any of the authors they chose. That doesn’t mean they aren’t big names, though, because the audience reacted with surprise and pleasure for each name that was announced.

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