Athens, Ga. – Jonathan Shay, a writer and medical school faculty member at Tufts University, who serves as a Veterans Administration psychiatrist administering to emotionally troubled Vietnam veterans, will deliver a lecture on the University of Georgia campus April 11.
Shay writes about the Homeric epics, The Iliad and The Odyssey, in order to describe and explain the veterans’ plight. He will speak in UGA’s Chapel at 11 a.m. His presentation will be on his work-in-progress, which revolves around tragedy and its ability to provide psychologically safe spaces for military and political concerns in a democracy.
The presentation is free and open to the public.
Shay is the author of two best-selling books, Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character and Ulysses in America: Combat Trauma and the Trials of Homecoming. He speaks and writes frequently for active duty military audiences on prevention of psychological and moral injury in military service. His second book includes a foreword by Senator John McCain and former Senator Max Cleland.
Shay has spoken on his work to university audiences across the country.
According to a profile of Shay published in The New York Times in 2003, he argues that “the military is too prone to treat soldiers as interchangeable parts rather than people.” The article says that Shay “will cite e-mail messages from Vietnam veterans, historical studies of slavery, work on stress hormones and Book 1 of The Iliad. He may well be the world’s only author who has appeared in Nature, The American Journal of Physiology, Ancient Theater Today and Parameters: Journal of the U.S. Army War College.”
Shay’s personal story is dramatic, according to the Times:
“At age 40 Jonathan Shay had life by the tail. He had his own lab at Massachusetts General Hospital and several papers published in prestigious journals. He was focused on the biochemistry of brain-cell death, with its relevance to strokes.
“But life takes sudden twists. As Sophocles wrote in Athens 2,400 years ago, no one should be counted happy who is still alive. Dr. Shay soon had reasons to contemplate that line and plenty of time.
“That year he turned 40, Dr. Shay, the professional student of strokes, had one of his own. He emerged from a coma paralyzed on his entire left side. Not long after, his marriage ended. The family business-which had paid the bills for his lively intellectual life through graduate school in sociology, a medical degree and a Ph.D. in neuroscience-hit hard times. Medical research grants were getting scarcer, so even as he pulled himself together, he found his work stalled.”
As he recuperated from his stroke, Shay moved into psychiatry and began working at an outpatient clinic for veterans in Boston. He regained his health, and his books have come out of the experiences he has amassed in the more than 20 years since then.
Shay’s appearance on the UGA campus is sponsored by the department of classics, UGA’s Willson Center for Humanities and Arts and several other departments in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences.