The Word on the Street

After a stroke and resulting personality change, Jon Sarkin turned to art, which is how author Amy Ellis Nutt found him. After a stroke and resulting personality change, Jon Sarkin turned to art, which is how author Amy Ellis Nutt found him. (Jon Sarkin)
By Jan Gardner
Globe Correspondent / June 19, 2011

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Back in the 1980s when Gloucester resident Jon Sarkin made his living as a chiropractor, he wore button-down shirts, ties, and wing-tip shoes. After he suffered a major stroke, his personality changed. He became moody, obsessive, and driven to create art. His wardrobe shifted to T-shirts, sneakers, and jeans streaked with paint.

Sarkin had his first show at a New York gallery in 2003 and has attained some renown as an artist and a medical mystery. Understanding the transformation he underwent is the driving force behind Amy Ellis Nutt’s new book, “Shadows Bright as Glass: The Remarkable Story of One Man’s Journey from Brain Trauma to Artistic Triumph” (Free Press). She draws on findings from neuroscience to explore how a person’s brain generates his self.

Nutt, a reporter at The Star-Ledger in Newark, N.J., came to Sarkin’s story by way of his art. While interviewing Dr. Todd Feinberg in his New York City office, she was drawn to one of Sarkin’s paintings on the wall. He had contacted Feinberg, author of “Altered Egos: How the Brain Creates the Self,” after hearing him interviewed on NPR. Sarkin wanted to know whether Feinberg could explain the momentous changes he had experienced. Science helped but what really buoyed Sarkin was meeting another artist with a similar compulsion and working on collaborations that fed his soul and affirmed his new identit y.

A season of poetry
The New England Poetry Club knows this much is true: The lush lawn at the home of one of America’s best-loved poets makes a fine setting for a reading series on summer Sunday afternoons.

Next Sunday the club will present its Golden Rose award to Naomi Shihab Nye not only for writing and championing poetry for children but for translating poems from the Arabic. Born to a Palestinian father and an American mother, Nye lives in San Antonio, and is the author and/or editor of more than two dozen volumes.

Nye will read from her work at 4 p.m. on the lawn of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s house, 105 Brattle St., Cambridge.

The series continues July 24 with John Barr, president of the Poetry Foundation, and Stanley Moss, editor of Sheep Meadow Press, and a discussion of poetry in the electronic age. On Aug. 7, Maine poet laureate Wesley McNair and Pulitzer Prize winner Franz Wright will read from their new works. “Where Do Poems Come From?” will be addressed on Aug. 14 by New England Poetry Club president Diana Der-Hovanessian and poets X.J. Kennedy and F.D. Reeves. The series concludes Aug. 28 with a reading of sonnets. Details at

Coming out
■ “Carte Blanche: The New James Bond Novel” by Jeffery Deaver (Simon & Schuster)

■ “The Wild Life of Our Bodies: Predators, Parasites, and Partners That Shape Who We Are Today’’ by Rob Dunn (Harper)

■ “Smart Parenting, Smarter Kids: The One Brain Book You Need to Help Your Child Grow Brighter, Healthier, and Happier” by David Walsh (Free Press)

Pick of the week
Shuchi Saraswat of Titcomb’s Bookshop in East Sandwich recommends “The Borrower” by Rebecca Makkai (Viking): “Children’s librarian Lucy Hull allows herself to be ‘kidnapped’ by a precocious boy intent on running away from home. They ping-pong across the Midwest and out to the East Coast on a hilarious road trip. Book lovers will enjoy the many references to well-known titles, from echoes of the road trip in ‘Lolita’ to a chapter that is structured like a Choose Your Own Adventure story.”

Jan Gardner can be reached at