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Elyn Saks Wins MacArthur Foundation Award

Tuesday, Sep 22, 2009

Elyn Saks published a memoir about her struggles with schizophrenia

USC Law professor and Associate Dean Elyn Saks has been selected as a 2009 fellow of the MacArthur Foundation. Saks is the first fellow selected from the faculty of USC and one of only 24 selected for this year’s awards.

The prestigious fellowship, known informally as the “genius grant,” provides each recipient with a $500,000 “no strings attached” award over five years. The awards were announced by the Chicago-based John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Saks is a nationally recognized scholar in mental health law, criminal law and the ethical dimensions of medical research. She also has battled schizophrenia and acute psychosis. In 2007, after decades of hiding her illness, Saks published a memoir about her struggles and successes in The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness. The book won far-reaching acclaim from literary critics and advocacy groups.

Since her arrival at USC in 1989, Saks has been among the school’s most productive and respected scholarly writers, said USC Gould School of Law Dean Robert Rasmussen. “We are immensely proud of Elyn,” he said. “Her personal and professional achievements are an inspiration to our students, faculty and alumni.”

For her part, Saks said she is excited about the recognition: “I’m really thrilled and honored. I’m glad for the recognition of, among other things, my book, which I hope helps implode some myths about schizophrenia and diminishes the stigma.

“The first thing I’m going to do with my award money is explore the lives of other people with schizophrenia so as to give hope to those who suffer from schizophrenia and understanding to those who don’t. This is an amazingly kind and generous program of the MacArthur Foundation.”

At USC Law, Saks teaches mental health law. She also teaches at the Institute of Psychiatry, Law and the Behavioral Sciences at the Keck School of Medicine of USC and is an adjunct professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine. In her capacity as associate dean, Saks oversees research and grants at USC Law.

Other publications authored by Saks include Refusing Care: Forced Treatment and the Rights of the Mentally Ill (University of Chicago Press, 2002), Interpreting Interpretation: The Limits of Hermeneutic Psychoanalysis (Yale University Press, 1999), and Jekyll on Trial: Multiple Personality Disorder and Criminal Law (with Stephen H. Behnke, New York University Press, 1997).

Before joining the USC Law faculty in 1989, Saks was an attorney in Connecticut and instructor at the University of Bridgeport School of Law. She graduated summa cum laude from Vanderbilt University, where she was class valedictorian, before earning her master of letters from Oxford University, for which she received a Marshall Scholarship, and her J.D. from Yale Law School, where she also edited the Yale Law Journal.

She is a member of Phi Beta Kappa and the American Law Institute. She is also a board member of the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, Mental Health Advocacy Services, the Los Angeles Psychoanalytic Foundation and the Robert J. Stoller Foundation. Saks won both the Associate’s Award for Creativity in Research and Scholarship and the Phi Kappa Phi Faculty Recognition Award in 2004 and 2008.

The MacArthur Fellows Program awards unrestricted fellowships to talented individuals who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction. There are three criteria for selection of fellows: exceptional creativity, promise for important future advances based on a track record of significant accomplishment and potential for the fellowship to facilitate subsequent creative work.

The program is intended to encourage people of outstanding talent to pursue their own creative, intellectual and professional inclinations. In keeping with this purpose, the foundation awards fellowships directly to individuals rather than through institutions. Recipients may be writers, scientists, artists, social scientists, humanists, teachers, entrepreneurs or those in other fields, with or without institutional affiliations. They may use their fellowship to advance their expertise, engage in bold new work or to change fields or alter the direction of their careers.


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