About Katy Butler

Award-winning journalist KATY BUTLER, a National Magazine Award finalist and winner of the “Science in Society” prize from the National Association of Science Writers, has written about neuroscience, medicine, Buddhism, and human behavior for the New Yorker, The New York Times, Vogue, Mother Jones, The L.A. Times, MORE, and The Washington Post.

Her new book, Knocking on Heaven’s Door: the Path to a Better Way of Death, was named “One of the Ten Best Memoirs of 2013” and “A Big Book for Fall 2013” by Publishers Weekly, which gave it a starred review.

A memoir of shepherding her parents through their final declines, its provocative thesis is that modern medicine, by singlemindedly pursuing maximum longevity, often creates more suffering than it prevents. (Scribner/Simon & Schuster, Sept. 10, 2013.)

For more about the book, click here.

Her groundbreaking writing, blending memoir and investigative reporting, has been chosen for Best American Essays, Best American Science Writing, and Best Buddhist Writing, and been featured on regional National Public Radio stations. She was a staff reporter for twelve years for the San Francisco Chronicle where she covered health care, social issues, riots, and the human face of the AIDS epidemic.

In her years as a journalist, she interviewed Jeff Bridges, Richard Nixon and Mickey Hart (not all at the same time), lived on the streets as a homeless person, wrote tickets as a Meter Maid, and reported on Brokeback Marriages, Gyuto monks, and the neuroscience of teenage drinking.

A popular speaker at hospitals on the family’s perspective medical choices near the end of life, Katy gave a 2011 guest lecture to the first-year class at Harvard Medical School and a keynote speech at Ochsner Clinics’ 2010 inaugural Bioethics Grand Rounds in New Orleans. (To engage Katy Butler as a speaker, click here.)

Knocking on Heaven’s Door is based on a groundbreaking New York Times Magazine article (“What Broke My Father’s Heart”) that was named a “notable narrative” by the Nieman Foundation at Harvard and won top prizes from the Association of Health Care Journalists, the Family Caregivers’ Association, and the National Association of Science Writers. Edwidge Danticat chose it for Best American Essays 2011 and Floyd and Rebecca Skloot for Best American Science Writing 2011.

Born in South Africa and raised in Oxford, England, Katy came to America with her family as a child. She attended Sarah Lawrence College, earned a BA from Wesleyan University in Connecticut, drove to San Francisco with $300 in her pocket, volunteered and wrote for The San Francisco Bay Guardian, and jumped to the The San Francisco Chronicle. After a stint on the night police beat, she became a popular feature writer, covering Peoples’ Temple, the Moscone and Milk assassinations, the AIDS epidemic, the right-to-die movement, health care economics, and urban gentrification.

At the same time, she meditated at dawn at San Francisco Zen Center and was lay-ordained by the Vietnamese monk and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh into his Tiep Hien Order. Her groundbreaking articles about abuses of power and sexuality within Buddhist communities, first published in Whole Earth Review and Common Boundary, are still widely read.

Other writing, often about the life passages of baby-boomers, has appeared in The New Yorker; Mother Jones; Vogue, Village Voice, Tricycle, The Buddhist Review; and Psychotherapy Networker magazine. Also KQED-Radio, Minnesota Public Radio, The Pacific Sun, The Marin Independent Journal, Los Angeles Times Sunday Magazine, and Coevolution Quarterly/The Whole Earth Review.

In 2004, she was a finalist for a National Magazine Award. A first-person essay on blending Buddhist practice and nature worship was anthologized in Best Buddhist Writing 2006. Other awards came from Mental Health America, the Mill Valley Arts Commission, and a Meredith Corporation Award for Creative Excellence for a feminist memoir in MORE magazine about family caregiving.

Her interests include Slow Medicine, aging parents, bioethics, parental caregiving, spirituality, dementia, family caregiving, Alzheimer’s Disease, end of life decisions, compassionate care, comfort care, palliative care, hospice, meditation, Zen practice, Buddhism, and how people transform themselves and their lives, especially at the boundary of the psychological and the spiritual. She lives in Mill Valley and has taught writing at Esalen Institute in Big Sur, Tassajara Zen Mountain Center, and Book Passage in Corte Madera, all in California. Find out more about Katy’s workshops and classes.


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