American Literature Richard Selzer
Mahala Yates Stripling
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 June 2024
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199827251-0251


Allen Richard Selzer (b. 1928–d. 2016) was born and raised in the industrial but architecturally magnificent city of Troy, New York, in a mixed cultural stew where he experienced the ravages of the Great Depression. The son of a doctor and concert singer, he combined these arts to become a creative writer not only of memoirs about his childhood but also of works that inspired a new canon of literature. A graduate of Troy public schools, Union College, Albany Medical School, and the Yale School of Medicine, he practiced and taught surgery at the New Haven hospital from 1955 until 1985, when he retired to write full time. For seventeen of these years, he published horror and crime stories in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and essays in Esquire, the New York Times, and Readers’ Digest. Later he wrote plays, novellas, and poignant memoirs—not the least of which was his own near-death drama, Raising the Dead. One of the first to write about modern medical practice in all its aspects, he was a small unassuming man in the macho world of surgery who dared to push past the rules of confidentiality to write about his patients. His boldness shocked some colleagues, yet he enlightened and entertained general readers. An original known for his poetic language exploring both the science and the heart of being a doctor, Selzer spurred a robust doctor-author writing movement that brought a focus back to patient-centered care in a technological age. He helped to generate significant new medical humanities programs in over 130 major medical schools in the United States. On another level, he wove ethical dilemmas into his stories, going beyond standard case studies to generate a critical canon of informed bioethics in medical schools and national bioethics councils. A well-known literary personage in his New Haven environs, he was also a benefactor to the underserved, acting as an advocate to provide needed services to the mentally ill. Although married to the same woman for sixty-one years, Selzer said at the end of his life that he never got what he wanted most—romantic love. It all makes up the long arc of a unique life and career.

Primary Works by Selzer

One of the original doctor-writers who influenced generations to come, Richard Selzer was prolific, offering his often-confessional views on the practice of medicine. His genres blurred and his imagination had no boundaries, as he took the world in for repairs.

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