Christopher Nolan, 43

Irish Poet, Memoirist Kept Cerebral Palsy From Hindering Work

By Raphael G. Satter
Associated Press
Sunday, February 22, 2009

Christopher Nolan, 43, an Irish poet and memoirist who refused to let cerebral palsy get in the way of his writing, died Feb. 20 at Beaumont Hospital in Dublin after a piece of food blocked his windpipe.

Mr. Nolan's brain was starved of oxygen during birth, leaving him unable to speak or control his arms or legs. He might have remained isolated from the outside world were it not for the drug Lioresal, which restored some of his muscle function. His parents nurtured their partially paralyzed son's literary talent.

Using a stick strapped to his forehead to tap the keys of a typewriter, Mr. Nolan laboriously wrote out messages and, eventually, poems and books.

His mother, Bernadette Nolan, said she first noticed her son's writing talent when he was 11.

"He wrote of a family visit to a cave that was illuminated by electric lights: He said it was 'a lovely, fairy-like effect to the work of nature,' " she told the Associated Press in a 1987 interview. "It was just that turn of phrase," she said. "I thought, that's unusual for a kid of 11."

Mr. Nolan published "Dam-Burst of Dreams," a collection of poetry, at 15. His autobiography, "Under the Eye of the Clock: The Life Story of Christopher Nolan," won the prestigious Whitbread award in 1988. The third-person account describes his longing for an education and the liberation of finally being able to type out his feelings. The book was a frank but sometimes hilarious account of his disability: He described his arm flying out to grab a woman's skirt and how his mouth sometimes remained stubbornly shut when he wanted to take Communion.

As novelist Margaret Drabble said, the book was "not merely another tale of brave strife against odds," adding that Mr. Nolan was "a writer, a real writer who uses words with an idiosyncratic new-minded freshness."

He disliked sentimental stories about his disability. Although "Under the Eye of the Clock" drew movie offers, Mr. Nolan refused on the grounds that the production would be too sentimental.

"I want to highlight the creativity within the brain of a cripple and, while not attempting to hide his crippledom, I want instead to filter all sob-storied sentiment from his portrait and dwell upon his life, his laughter, his vision, and his nervous normality," he told the Irish Independent.

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