Perri Klass is an American pediatrician and writer who has published extensively about her medical training and pediatric practice. Among her subjects have been the issues of women in medicine, relationships between doctors and patients, and children and literacy. She is the author of both fiction and nonfiction novels, stories, essays, and journalism. Dr. Klass is Professor of Journalism and Pediatrics at New York University, and Medical Director of Reach Out and Read, a national childhood literacy program that works through doctors and nurses to encourage parents to read aloud to young children, and to give them the books they need to do it. She is a member of the National Advisory Council of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, and has been nominated by the President of the United States to the Advisory Board of the National Institute For Literacy.
Early life and career
Klass was born in Trinidad, where her father, Morton Klass, was doing anthropological field work. She grew up in New York City and Leonia, New Jersey. Her father was an anthropology professor at Barnard College, and her mother a novelist and professor of English at the City University of New York. Dr. Klass received her A.B. in Biology from Harvard University in 1979. Klass went on to earn her M.D. from Harvard Medical School in 1986, and completed her residency in pediatrics at Children's Hospital, Boston, and her fellowship in pediatric infectious diseases at Boston City Hospital.
During her years at Harvard Medical School, Dr. Klass began to chronicle her medical training. In 1984, as a third-year medical student, she wrote a series of columns, published in the New York Times in the series of “Hers Columns,” describing, among other things, the uncertainty of drawing blood for the very first time, the peculiar locutions of hospital jargon, and the emotional subtext of crying in the hospital. She also wrote, in the New York Times Magazine, about the experience of having a baby while in medical school. She went on to write many articles and columns about her training, originally published in Discover Magazine, American Health, Massachusetts Medicine, and other magazines, and later collected in two books about medical training, A Not Entirely Benign Procedure: Four Years as a Medical Student, and Baby Doctor: A Pediatrician's Training.
In addition to her accounts of medical training, her books include a memoir in two voices, Every Mother is a Daughter: the Neverending Quest for Success, Inner Peace, and a Really Clean Kitchen, coauthored with her mother, Sheila Solomon Klass; and Quirky Kids: Understanding and Helping Your Child Who Doesn't Fit In, coauthored with Eileen Costello, MD. Perri Klass’s novels include The Mystery of Breathing, Other Women’s Children (also made into a Lifetime TV movie), and Recombinations. She has also published two collections of short stories, I Am Having An Adventure, and Love and Modern Medicine. Her short stories have won five O. Henry Awards. Klass’s most recent non-fiction book, Treatment Kind and Fair: Letters to a Young Doctor was published in 2007; her most recent novel The Mercy Rule, appeared in 2008. Her journalism has appeared in The New York Times Science Section, The New England Journal of Medicine, The Washington Post, Vogue, Gourmet, and many other magazines and newspapers. She writes a regular column in Knitters Magazine, and her knitting essays have been collected in the book Two Sweaters for My Father.
Dr. Klass has combined her interest in medicine and literacy to help promote the importance of books to children, through her work with Reach Out and Read. She became involved with Reach Out and Read when it was a single program in a single hospital, and, through her leadership at the National Center, has helped it grow into a national program, now in more than 4,500 locations in all 50 states, distributing more than 6 million books every year to more than 3.8 million children. Dr. Klass has trained doctors and nurses around the United States and elsewhere, including Portugal and the Philippines, in strategies to incorporate books and literacy guidance into pediatric primary care.
Awards and honors
Dr. Klass has received numerous awards for her work as a pediatrician and educator. In 2007, she received the American Academy of Pediatrics Education Award, which recognized her for educational contributions that have had a broad and positive impact on the health and well being of children. The Academy particularly cited her work with Reach Out and Read. Other awards have included:
- Women’s National Book Association Award (2006)
- Legacy Award, Reach Out and Read of Greater New York (2006)
- Women to Watch, Jewish Women International (2006)
- Featured Physician in National Library of Medicine exhibit, Changing the face of Medicine: Celebrating America’s Women Physicians, National Institutes of Health (2003-2005)
- Radcliffe Alumnae Achievement Award (2003)
- Virtual Mentor Award, American Medical Association (2000)
- James Beard Foundation Journalism Award for Magazine Writing on Diet, Nutrition and Health (2000)
Klass has been a member of the National Institute for Literacy Advisory Board, and the National Advisory Council of National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
Personal life and family
She lives in New York City with her husband, history professor Larry Wolff. They have three children.
She is the sister of screenwriter David Klass, with whom she wrote the young adult novel Second Impact. She is the niece of Philip Klass, who wrote science fiction under the name William Tenn.
- Boodman, Sandra (6 November 2007). "Words to Live From A Doctor, Mother, Author". The Washington Post. p. F3.
- Bosman, Julie (15 November 2006). "Book Prize for Perri Klass". The New York Times. p. E2.
Perri Klass is Professor of Journalism and Pediatrics at New York University. She attended Harvard Medical School and completed her residency in pediatrics at Children's Hospital, Boston, and her fellowship in pediatric infectious diseases at Boston City Hospital.
Perri has written extensively about medicine, children, literacy, and knitting. Her nonfiction includes Every Mother is a Daughter: the Neverending Quest for Success, Inner Peace, and a Really Clean Kitchen, which she coauthored with her mother, and Quirky Kids: Understanding and Helping Your Child Who Doesn't Fit In, which she coauthored with Eileen Costello. She is also the author two collections and other works of fiction, including the novels The Mystery of Breathing and Other Women's Children. Her most recent books are Treatment Kind and Fair: Letters to a Young Doctor and The Mercy Rule, which was released in July 2008, as well as revised editions of A Not Entirely Benign Procedure: Four Years as a Medical Student and Baby Doctor: A Pediatrician's Training released in 2010.
Her short stories have won five O. Henry Awards, and in 2006, she was the recipient of the Women's National Book Association Award. She is a longtime member of the executive board of PEN New England, which she chaired from 2004 to 2006.
Perri also serves as National Medical Director of Reach Out and Read, a national nonprofit which promotes early literacy through doctors and nurses who provide primary care to young children at nearly 5,000 clinics, health centers, hospitals, and doctor's offices in all 50 states. Through her work with Reach Out and Read, Perri has been able to integrate her commitment to the health care of young children with her love of the written word. In an essay on the program, she wrote, "When I think about children growing up in homes without books, I have the same visceral reaction as I have when I think of children in homes without milk or food or heat: It cannot be, it must not be. It stunts them and deprives them before they've had a fair chance."