Poet, essayist, cardiologist, and lecturer John Henry Stone was born on 7 February 1936 in Jackson to John Stone and Pauline Marler Stone. His father, a production supervisor, died of a heart attack when Stone was a senior at Jackson’s Central High School, where he edited the literary magazine. Stone earned a bachelor’s degree from Millsaps College in 1958. He married Sarah Lucretia Crymes on 16 August 1954, and the couple went on to have two children, John and James. In 1962 Stone received his medical degree from Washington University in St. Louis. He trained in internal medicine at the University of Rochester and completed a fellowship in cardiology at Emory University in Atlanta. From 1964 to 1966 Stone served in the US Public Health Service, attaining the rank of lieutenant commander.
In 1969 Stone joined the faculty at Emory, where he founded one of the first medical school courses in literature and medicine, and he later taught the course at Oxford University. From 1974 to 1985 he worked full time at Atlanta’s Grady Memorial Hospital, founding and directing its Emergency Medicine Residency Program. Stone also wrote poetry and essays that explore the common threads between literature and medicine. The author or coeditor of On Doctoring and In the Country of Hearts as well as several medical textbooks, Stone chronicled the relationship between the poet’s sensitivity and the doctor’s clinical examination of the human condition.
Beginning with The Smell of Matches (1972) and continuing through his final volume, Music from Apartment 8 (2004), Stone’s poetry illustrates the same theme that he brought to the world of medicine: listening to the stories we tell unites us all. In the tradition of poet-physician William Carlos Williams, Stone’s witty, insightful, and sensitive lyrics examine the common threads between literature and medicine. Stone sees the duty of the writer to prepare oneself for a “good death” and the poet and the physician as making use of the same materials. Stone wrote that the “words growing all over Mississippi” need the poet to listen to them and give them order. Poetry, he added, is about “what to do in the time remaining, which, it seems to me, is the only important question, whatever stages of growing up one is in.” Both Stone’s poetry and his prose are about those questions; they offer examples, as he said in his introduction to On Doctoring, of “the isolation and alienation that come eventually to us all.”
Among his numerous honorary degrees and teaching and writing awards, Stone received the Literature Award from the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters in 1986 and again in 1999 and was named Georgia Writer of the Year four times. Stone retired from full-time teaching and lived in Tucker, Georgia, outside Atlanta, until his death from cancer on 6 November 2008. John Stone Hall at Millsaps is now home to the Millsaps Writing Center.
- Dorothy Abbott, ed., Mississippi Writers: Reflections of Childhood and Youth (1988)
- Michael Heffernan, The Midwest Quarterly (Winter 1985)
- Gary Kerley, New Georgia Encyclopedia website, www.georgiaencyclopia.org
- John Stone and Richard Reynolds, eds., On Doctoring: Journeys in the Art of Medicine (1995)
- J. Walsh, Speak So I Shall Know Thee: Interviews with Southern Writers (1990)