Vonnegut to discuss mental illness, creativity, practicing medicine

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Vonnegut to discuss mental illness, creativity, practicing medicine

Mark Vonnegut
Courtesy Barb Vonnegut
Mark Vonnegut

His name sounds familiar because his father wrote several celebrated novels, but Mark Vonnegut’s story about his struggles with mental illness is very much his own.

Vonnegut will share this story and explore how creativity relates to medicine during the Linda and Charles Wilson Humanities in Medicine Lecture, “Great Wits and Madness: The Arts, Medicine, and Mental Illness,” at 5 p.m. April 22. The presentation will be in the Nebraska Union Auditorium, 14th and R streets.

Vonnegut is the son of famed author Kurt Vonnegut and has been a practicing pediatrician in Massachusetts since he graduated from Harvard Medical School in 1979. He’s also an artist and memoirist, having written two memoirs about living with bipolar disorder: “The Eden Express” and “Just Like Someone Without Mental Illness, Only More So.”

It was his second book that drew the attention of University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Medicine professor Byers Shaw and prompted him to suggest Vonnegut as a speaker.

“’Only More So,’ has become very popular with medical students all over because of its vulnerability and its honesty,” Shaw said. “It’s a story of succeeding despite struggling with extraordinary mental illness. I had gotten the impression from some of my students that he would be a good person to bring in.”

Funded by Charles and Linda Wilson, UNL’s Humanities in Medicine program works with the UNMC program each year to bring a speaker to both campuses to speak on humanities topics related to medicine. Vonnegut will also speak at noon April 22 at UNMC.

“In terms of emphasizing the human side of medicine, Mark is a great example of that,” Shaw said.

Rose Holz, director of the Humanities in Medicine program at UNL, said Vonnegut’s talk will examine the intersection of mental illness and creativity, as well as the importance of creativity to being a good doctor.

“It’s clear to me that art is very important to him,” Holz said. “He’s a physician, a writer and a watercolorist, which is pretty awesome. He explores a long history of doctors as creative individuals (in his talk).”

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