about the book
In 2009, writer Sandy Allen got something in the mail from their uncle Bob. It was his autobiography, typed on sixty pages in all-capital letters. Bob was a self-described "hermit" who lived in the desert in northern California. Sandy didn't know Bob well. On the phone, Bob said he wanted to get his story "out there" because it was "true." In A Kind of Mirraculas Paradise: A True Story about Schizophrenia, Sandy shares Bob's story with the world.
AKOMP is written in two fonts. In one font, Sandy tells Bob's life story faithfully to his account. He was a Hendrix-obsessed kid coming of age in tumultuous late sixties Berkeley, CA. His world was forever changed when one day in 1970, at about age sixteen, he was driven to a mental hospital, locked in a cell, injected with drugs and thereafter, as Bob put it, "labeled a psychotic paranoid schizophrenic." In a second font, Sandy interlaces familial, historical, and medical contexts, seeking especially to better understand the 'label' he received.
The result is an utterly unique and electrifying work, one that has changed the conversation about schizophrenia and about mental illness generally.
Hardcover, ebook, paperback now available from Scribner
Buy online from your favorite local bookshop via Bookshop or from any bookseller, today. Or get it from your local library!
read by Sandy Allen and actor Pete Simonelli
Also out in French from Belfond
Top Work of Journalism of the Decade (nominee) – NYU Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute
40 Best Nonfiction Books of 2018 – Esquire
21 Books to Read in 2018 – The Week
“This book is an act of radical empathy through which the author—and, vicariously, the reader—enters intimately into a life that would otherwise be unintelligible.”
– Anne Fadiman, author of The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down
“To pay great attention and devote steady care to the perspective of another is, in itself, almost miraculous—especially when the Other has been cast as mad and dangerous.[Sandy] Allen has brought forward [their] uncle’s life, rendering in exquisite detail what his experiences as a stigmatized, struggling man allowed him to see. This is a truly original piece of work. I urge you to read it.”
– Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, author of Random Family
"I know the decision to write this story wasn't an easy one.... I’m really, really grateful that you did 💖 Thank you for bearing witness. Thank you for being kind, and curious, and thorough, and honest. Just, thank you. 📚😭
– Heben Nigatu (host, Another Round)
"Timely . . . An excellent contextualized first-person narrative of schizophrenia . . . My hope is that it will become a classic and universally read by all psychiatrists."
– Howard L. Forman, MD, Psychiatric Times
"Thrilling writing . . . The interest and the quality of the story make honesty about each aspect of this strange life worth including . . . A watershed in empathetic adaptation of 'outsider' autobiography."
– Jo Livingstone, The New Republic
“A book of many strange and often oddly beautiful pieces that together combine into a story that will make you tremble. [AKOMP] is a resurrection of sorts, a profound retrieval of a life from beyond the veil with which so many of us obscure the realities of illness and family, loneliness and intimacy.”
– Jeff Sharlet, author of The Family
"It is an odd thing, paranoia. It’s easily lampooned and culturally accessible, but it’s seldom experienced or portrayed so elegantly as Allen does here."
"In a searing new memoir, a niece tries to make sense of [their] uncle's mental illness."
“[They call] the beautiful final product a cover version—rather than a translation—and it is a marvel.”
"Insightful . . . Allen offers readers an incredible glimpse into the life of a person battling with schizophrenia."
"A glimpse of how schizophrenia looks and feels from the inside."
“Deeply affecting . . . Evokes what it’s like to try to make sense of a troubled loved one from afar . . . The picture of a distinct but impenetrable life”
“[A] compelling debut . . . Allen is a skillful writer."
– Library Journal (starred review)
"Allen has crafted a fearless narrative about what it is really like to grow up under the weight of mental illness . . . Honest, heartbreaking, and often humorous, this remarkable book offers a window into an experience of mental illness that many people often never get the chance to see through."
“Compulsively readable . . . A fascinating and important work.”
""[AKOMP ] is an extraordinarily empathic journey into the mind and lived experience of a man who struggled to understand and explain his life . . . I urge you to let Allen introduce you to [their] uncle Bob."
“Shows a burgeoning critical mental health gaze . . . [Sandy] allows Bob’s story to flow without neatly fitting into one model of thought around what it means to be diagnosed with schizophrenia."
– ISPS UK
– for The Boston Globe with Kate Tuttle, president of the National Book Critics Circle
– for The Cedar Rapids Gazette with Rob Cline ("A unique and effective effort to honor [their] uncle’s story while placing it in a larger context . . . Allen asks [their] readers to expand their notion of what is 'normal.'")
– for The Daily Iowan with Haley Triem
– for The Essay Review with Nicolás Medina Mora
radio & podcast appearances
– This American Life – "Applied Bob Studies"
Produced during the pandemic by Bim Adewunmi for the "How to Be Alone" episode, a piece on the ways Sandy looked to their Uncle Bob's story as a road map for how to survive isolation
– KCRW's "The Organist" a feature on AKOMP and outsider art (featuring Uncle Bob's music)
Since the book's publication, Sandy has continued writing and publishing about mental health, in pieces such as:
The Cut - "It's Not Just Britney"
In the wake of Britney Spears speaking out against her conservatorship, an essay on the broader problem of coercive psychiatry
99% Invisible – "The Kirkbride Plan"
A long radio story produced by Sandy about the surprising history of mental health care in America
Guernica – "Out of the Maze"
The story of Sandy encountering the painting on the AKOMP paperback, and about grappling with whose truths to listen to, when it comes to "mental illness"
Mad in America – "Media Errors in Covering Mental Health: Advice to Fellow Writers and Editors"
A long essay looking back on a previous experience of reporting about police violence against a psychiatric patient, and the errors that media tend to make when covering these topics
Gay Magazine – "'That's So Crazy': Why the we talk about mental health matters"
An essay about a month Sandy tracked instances they heard people use words like "insane" and "crazy" and what this language reveals about our attitudes towards people diagnosed with psychiatric disorders
Lit Hub – "The Challenge of Book Tour as a Nonbinary Author"
Sandy reflects on coming out as nonbinary after their book initially published
BuzzFeed Books – "How Pie Keeps Me Steady"
An essay about a small thing that helps Sandy, and about how writing AKOMP changed their thinking around 'self-care'
Powell's Blog – "The Madness Shelf" –
An essay about Sandy reading all the books they possibly could "about schizophrenia" and what that did and didn't yield
CNN Opinion – "This Toxic Lie Hurts Society's Most Vulnerable"
An op-ed calling out the bigotry of the NRA and GOP's as they blame people with psychiatric disabilities for gun violence
January 15, 2019 // Iowa City, IA
Prairie Lights (Paperback launch), 7PM
January 17, 2019 // Bronx, NY
Albert Einstein College of Medicine (Grand Rounds), 10:30 AM
January 25, 2019 // Brooklyn, NY
Books Are Magic (w/ Kevin Nguyen), 7:30PM
February 7, 2019 // St. Paul, MN
Subtext Books 7PM
February 19, 2019 // Oakland, CA
East Bay Booksellers (w/ Rahawa Haile), 7:00 PM
January 24, 2018 // Brooklyn, NY
Greenlight Bookstore (Hardcover launch w/ Meredith Talusan), 7:30PM
January 27, 2018 // New York, NY
You Get a Spoon, 4PM
January 30, 2018 // New York, NY
House of Speakeasy, (w/ Elif Shafak, Christopher J. Yates, and Michael Wolff), 7PM
January 31, 2018 // Portland, OR
Powell’s Books, 7:30PM
February 1, 2018 // San Francisco, CA
Booksmith @ The Bindery (w/ Esmé Weijun Wang), 7:30PM
February 3, 2018 // Marin County, CA
Book Passage, (w/ Anita Badejo), 1PM
February 7, 2018 // Los Angeles, CA
Skylight Books (w/ Amanda Chicago Lewis), 7:30PM
February 8, 2018 // Providence, RI
Brown Bookstore (w/ Lucas Mann), 6PM
February 9, 2018 // Cambridge, MA
Harvard Book Store, (w/ Matthew Spellberg), 7PM
February 13, 2018 // Kingston, NY
Rough Draft Bar & Books (w/ Elmo Keep), 7PM
February 22, 2018 // New York, NY
NYU Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute (w/ Robert Boynton), 6PM
March 5, 2018 // Coral Gables, FL
Books & Books, 8PM
March 9, 2018 // Tampa, FL
The Hub (University of Iowa Nonfiction Writing Program alumni reading), 6:30PM
March 18, 2018 // Woodstock, NY
The Golden Notebook, 3PM
March 26, 2018 // Annandale-on-Hudson
Bard College 6:30PM
March 29, 2018 // South Hadley, MA
Odyssey Bookshop (w/ Adrian Nicole LeBlanc), 7PM
April 5, 2018 // Chicago, IL
Women & Children First (w/ Jessica Hopper), 7:30PM
April 6 // Iowa City, IA
Carver College of Medicine, 12PM
Mission Creek Festival Lit Walk, 7PM
April 9, 2018 // Minneapolis, MN
Moon Palace Books, 7PM
April 10, 2018 // Excelsior, MN
Trinity Church panel on Mental Health in Literature (w/ Marya Hornbacher and Andy Steiner), 1PM
April 18, 2018 // Missoula, MT
Fact & Fiction (w/ Anne Helen Petersen), 7PM
April 22, 2018 // Los Angeles, CA
Los Angeles Times Festival of Books (Memoir: The Unexpected Hard Stuff), 11AM
May 14, 2018 // Brooklyn, NY
Franklin Park Reading Series, (w/ Alexander Chee, Gregory Pardlo, Hanif Abdurraqib, and Mike Scalise), 8PM
May 17, 2018 // New York, NY
Susan Eley Fine Art “Self and the Other” Literary Salon (w/ Akwaeke Emezi), 7PM
May 21, 2018 // Brooklyn, NY
POWERHOUSE Arena (Memoir Monday w/ Nuar Alsadir, Minda Honey, and Tom McAllister), 7PM
September 2, 2018 // Spencertown, NY
Spencertown Academy of the Arts Festival of Books
October 12, 2018 // Fairfax, VA
George Mason Fall for the Book Festival 6:00 pm
October 26, 2018 // Iowa City, IA
The Examined Life Conference, 12:45PM
October 28, 2018 // Austin, TX
Texas Book Festival (w/ Melissa Stephenson), 3:30PM
November 18, 2018 // Miami, FL
Miami Book Fair (w/ Jean Guerrero), 12:30PM
about the author
Sandy Ernest Allen is a writer, journalist and speaker. His work focuses on normalcy, especially to do with gender and mental health. He is transgender and queer. He lives in the Catskills.
Sandy's debut book, A Kind of Mirraculas Paradise: A True Story about Schizophrenia, was published by Scribner in 2018 (paperback in 2019). Sandy’s feature stories, essays and radio stories have been published by numerous outlets including 99% Invisible, them., and BuzzFeed News.
Sandy hosts a podcast about pop culture and mental health called Mad Chat.
Sandy uses he/him and they/them pronouns.
Much more about Sandy at his website.
Photo credit: Rob Dubbin
Website designed by Andy Dubbin