Katy Butler

Katy Butler

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Biography Katy Butler is a public speaker, journalist-author, and teacher of memoir writing at Esalen Institute. She is best known for books about medicine's changing approach to the end of life. A graduate of Wesleyan University, she is the author of a critically acclaimed investigative memoir, "Knocking on Heaven’s Door: The Path to a Better Way of Death" (2013); and a nonfiction handbook for the last third of life called "The Art of Dying Well: A Practical Guide to a Good End of Life" (2019.) Her main areas of interest are: health; aging; death; bioethics; aging parents; family caregiving; the structure and shortcomings of American medicine; domestic and sexual violence; neuroscience; human behavior; addiction; psychotherapy; meditation; and religious and spiritual life. Her writing has appeared in many publications including The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, JAMA-Internal Medicine, The New Yorker, Atlantic, and Scientific American. It has earned the Science in Society Prize from the National Association of Science Writers; a Books for a Better Life "best first book" award; fellowships and residencies at Yaddo, Blue Mountain Center, Hedgebrook, and Mesa Refuge; and inclusion in Best American Essays, Best American Science Writing, and Best Buddhist Writing. She is a past finalist for a National Magazine Award and the Dayton Literary Peace Prize. Her books have been praised by many leading medical, spiritual, and literary figures, including Ira Byock MD, Barbara Ehrenreich, Anne Lamott, Adam Hochschild, Jack Kornfield, Joan Halifax, Sherwin Nuland, MD, Mary Pipher, and Abraham Verghese, MD. "Knocking on Heaven’s Door," a New York Times bestseller, was named one of the ten best memoirs of the year by Publishers Weekly and was named an “Editors’ Choice," a "Best Book," or a "Notable Book of the Year" by the NYT, The SF Chronicle, the Boston Globe and other publications. The book weaves a memoir of caring for her father during a long, difficult decline with an investigative history of medical innovation and a critical exploration of why medicine now focuses on warding off death rather than preparing people for peaceful ones. It was based on a groundbreaking NYT magazine article, "What Broke My Father's Heart: How a Pacemaker Wrecked a Family's Life," a "most emailed" NYT story for more than a month. She is one of relatively few non-physicians to give “Grand Rounds” and endowed lectures at leading medical centers, including Harvard Medical School, Mt. Sinai, Cedars-Sinai, UCSF, the VA Medical Center in Minneapolis, and Kaiser-Permanente northern California. She has appeared on scores of public television and radio programs, such as Melissa Harris Perry's former program on MSNBC and on the Diane Rehm show. She has given keynotes before more than 100 community and professional groups and at leading bookstores across the country. Her literary agent is Amanda (Binky) Urban of ICM Partners in Manhattan. Scribner, a division of Simon & Schuster, published her first two books. Katy was born in Grahamstown, South Africa, was raised in Oxford, England. She came to the US as a child, settling with her family in the Boston area. (Her father Jeffrey was a Wesleyan University college professor and World War II veteran who lost his left arm in combat in Italy; her mother was a gifted amateur artist and homemaker.) She attended Sarah Lawrence college and obtained her BA from Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn. Earlier in life, she lived in a mud hut in the Venezuelan rain forest and in two Buddhist monasteries and worked as a pizza waitress, a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle (winning awards for her coverage, with Randy Shilts, of the AIDS crisis) an investigative reporter for an alternative newspaper, and a school crossing guard. For ten years, she wrote and edited for Psychotherapy Networker, contributing many 10,000-word articles of cultural criticism and therapeutic analysis to issues that won several National Magazine Awards and nominations. Her writing has also appeared in Vogue, Salon, Utne Reader, Yoga Journal, MORE, Tricycle: the Buddhist Quarterly, and The Whole Earth Review and Catalog. A practicing Buddhist, she lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband, professional musician Brian Donohue, who performs widely in local nursing homes, dementia units, and assisted living residences.
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