Bill Hayes

Bill Hayes

Fellow: Awarded 2013
Field of Study: General Nonfiction

Competition: US & Canada

Praised by the San Francisco Chronicle as "one of those rare authors who can tackle just about any subject in book form, and make you glad he did," Bill Hayes is the author of three books—and is at work on a fourth—each of which deals with facets of the human body; this is the thread that runs through all of his writing.  He is also a frequent contributor to the New York Times, and his work has appeared in the New York Review of Books, Salon, and the Threepenny Review, among other publications.  He lives in New York.

In his first book, Sleep Demons: An Insomniac’s Memoir (2001), Hayes explored sleep and sleeplessness from the perspective of a lifelong insomniac.  Publisher’s Weekly called Sleep Demons "An intelligent, beautifully written book that variously reads like a journey of scientific discovery, a personal memoir, and a literary episode of ‘Ripley’s Believe It or Not.’" 

In Five Quarts: A Personal and Natural History of Blood (2004), he wove together memoir and medical history in an examination of the five quarts of vital fluid that run through each of us.  The Boston Globe called Five Quarts “playful and powerful . . . profoundly moving.  Hayes writes with so much panache that reading this book is thrilling.”

The Anatomist, his most recent book (2008), is a narrative nonfiction account of the story behind the nineteenth-century classic revered by doctors and artists alike, Gray’s Anatomy.  “Hayes searches for the elusive man behind the great reference work and offers his own scalpel’s-eye tour of the human body,” noted the New York Times.


Hayes is now at work on a book in which he is exploring a largely overlooked chapter in the history of medicine:  the development of exercise—a form of physical activity distinct from sport, play, or athletics.  Titled Sweat: A History of Exercise, the book will be published by Bloomsbury USA/UK. In Sweat, Hayes traces the origins of exercise in Western and Eastern traditions, and chronicles how exercise has evolved over time, both influenced by and exerting influence on changes in the larger culture.  Whereas in The Anatomist he dealt with the literal dissection of the human body, in Sweat he is dissecting the dynamics of human movement.  Plato, Galen, and the “Einstein of human perspiration,” Japanese scientist Yas Kuno, among many others, appear in the book, but chief among the historical figures is Girolamo Mercuriale, a Renaissance-era physician and author who aimed to singlehandedly revive the ancient “art of exercising” through his book De arte gymnastica (1569).

Hayes is also working on a collection of his essays and vignettes on life in New York, many of which have appeared in the New York Times.  The book, titled Insomniac City, will be published by Bloomsbury UK/USA.

New York Times essay, brief excerpt from Sweat: A History of Exercise

New York Times essay, brief excerpt from Insomniac City

Follow this link to read "A Year in Trees," by Bill Hayes (New York Times, Sunday Review, April 6, 2013).


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