KATY BUTLER is an American Buddhist journalist, essayist, and cultural critic whose writing often begins with personal revelation. Her first book, "Knocking on Heaven's Door: A Daughter's Journey through Old Age and New Medicine," explores her parents' deaths and a new art of dying for the modern age. It is due to be published by Scribner (Simon and Schuster) in 2013.
Published in the New York Times Magazine, her 2010 memoir, "My Father's Broken Heart," explored the moral quandaries created by advanced medical technology near the end of life. The fourth-most accessed article in the magazine in 12 months, it was named a "notable narrative" by the Nieman Foundation at Harvard and was selected by Edwidge Danticat for inclusion in "The Best American Essays 2011," and by Rebecca Skloot for "The Best Science Writing 2011."
Based on her family's experience, she has spoken about improving shared medical decision-making at Ochsner Clinics in New Orleans, John Muir Medical Center in Concord, Childrens' Hospital Boston, and Harvard Medical School.
Born in South Africa and raised in Oxford, England, Katy came to America at the age of eight, with her family. (Her father Jeffrey Butler, a college professor, was part of Britain's wave of postwar "brain drain" emigration.) She attended Sarah Lawrence College and holds a B.A. and an honorary M.A. from Wesleyan University in Connecticut.
In the 1970s, she left the East Coast, drove cross-country to San Francisco with $300 in her pocket, and got started in journalism as a volunteer and then a staff writer for The San Francisco Bay Guardian. Later, as a cityside reporter for The San Francisco Chronicle, she helped cover Peoples' Temple, the Moscone and Milk assassinations, the AIDS epidemic, the right-to-die movement, health care economics, and urban gentrification.
While working as a mainstream reporter, she converted to Buddhism, meditated regularly 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. She also wrote about misuses of power, money, alcohol, and sexuality within American Buddhist communities.
In the late 1980s, she wrote from San Francisco for The New Yorker's "Talk of the Town" section about Buddhist, Catholic, and artistic responses to the AIDS crisis, among other subjects. Her journalism, essays and cultural criticism have since appeared in such respected national publications as The Science Times section of the New York Times; Mother Jones; Vogue, Village Voice, Tricycle, the Buddhist Review; and Psychotherapy Networker magazine.
Her work has also appeared in: The Pacific Sun, Minnesota Public Radio, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Marin Independent Journal, The 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," and the National Mental Health Association honored her the same year with an award for research excellence. In 2007, she won a Meredith Corporation award for Creative Excellence, for a feminist memoir in MORE magazine about acting as a long-distance caregiver for her aging parents. In 2008, she won an Elizabeth George Foundation literary award for her lifetime body of work. In 2011, she was awarded a "Milley" recognizing her creative achievement in the literary arts, an award sponsored by the Mill Valley Arts Commission.
Her interests include addiction, meditation, and how people transform themselves and their lives, especially at the boundary of psychology and spiritual practice. She has lived for more than 20 years in Mill Valley, California.
She has taught writing at Esalen Institute in Big Sur, at Tassajara Zen Mountain Center in the Ventana Wilderness, and at Book Passage in Corte Madera, CA.
©2011 Katy Butler