Interview with Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz, Author of Dr. Mütter’s Marvels
11 Nov 2015
Dr. Mütter’s Marvels is the true story of Dr Thomas Dent Mütter, founder of Philadelphia’s (in)famous Mütter Museum – a museum of 19th century medical oddities. Mütter was a brilliant and humanist doctor, who specialized in reconstructive surgery on the severely deformed in a time before anesthesia (so all of his patients were awake during his procedures), and was huge force in revolutionizing American medicine as we know it today.
You’re hosting a dinner party and can invite anyone- alive or dead, fictional or real. Who’s coming to dinner?
I would invited Mütter and wife Mary – after researching them both so much, it would be incredible to meet them – and I would also invite two other famous Pennsylvanians: Benjamin Franklin, whom I’ve loved since I was a kid, and President James Buchanan, who was America’s first gay president, although I’m not sure why that isn’t more public knowledge. In any case, I would love to share with President Buchanan all the amazing advancements that have happened with gay rights right here in America and around the world!
Where is your favorite place you’ve spent time as an artist-in-residence?
I loved my time in Australia. It’s such an amazing country: friendly, huge and beautiful. It’s a beast of a flight to get down there but so worth it. Oh, and the Australian poetry scene is fantastic too! Breathtakingly smart and funny!
BAM. You’re a superhero. What’s your superpower?
Empathy beams. It would allow me to take two people in conflict, and shoot them both with empathy beams that would allow them to open up to the other’s opinions and perspectives more. But since I don’t have that power (YET), I spend a lot of time encourage people to truly listen to one another. It’s amazing how much change can happen if you just listen.
Tell us about your most recent poetry slam!
Oh, the last poetry slam I attended was the NYC Urbana Poetry Slam in New York City. It is the same slam that I started in 1998 when I was a 19-year-old NYU student. It is thrilling to see it flush with young people who are falling in love with poetry the same way over a decade and a half earlier!
Who was your childhood hero?
My mother. She is the reason I am a writer today.
What prompted your shift from poetry to the genre of non-fiction (featured in Dr. Mütter’s Marvels)?
I’ve been a life-long lover of nonfiction. My mother was a devoted nonfiction reader too, so I likely developed that love from her. When I was twenty-four, I was asked by Soft Skull Press to help write a history of the American Poetry Slam movement. That book would eventually become Words In Your Face, my first nonfiction book, and I was hooked.
What’s your favorite quote or scene from Dr. Mütter’s Marvels?
One of my favorite Mütter quotes didn’t make it in the book: Come forth to charm, enlighten and dazzle the world!
Mütter would say that to his students, and I think it’s beautiful!
Do you have a motto, quote or philosophy you live by?
It’s Okay. I’ve had a little flag that says that that has hung over numerous desks of mine for years. When I get frustrated, I often lean back in my chair, and that little sign has met my gaze hundreds of times. It’s simple but comforting, and more often than not, true.
Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz is the author of the new book The Nightmare Place.
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