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, 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.
AKOMP was published by Scribner (hardcover, ebook and audiobook in 2018 and paperback 2019) and in French by Belfond.
Praise for A KIND OF MIRRACULAS PARADISE
40 Best Nonfiction Books of 2018 – Esquire
The Most Anticipated Books of January 2018 – Vogue
18 Nonfiction Books to Watch For in the First Half of 2018 – CBC
The 30 Most Anticipated Nonfiction Books of 2018 – Bitch
21 Books to Read in 2018 – The Week
The Most Anticipated Books for the First Half of 2018 – The Rumpus
“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)
"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
"In a searing new memoir, [an author] tries to make sense of [their] uncle's mental illness."
– O Magazine
“[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."
– Publishers Weekly
"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 (largest psychiatry magazine)
“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."
– Jessica Pons, ISPS-UK (International Society for Psychological and Social Approaches to Psychosis)
“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."
– B. David Zarley for Paste Magazine
"A glimpse of how schizophrenia looks and feels from the inside."
– Kirkus Reviews
“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”
– LA Review of Books
“[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."
""[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."
– Little Village Magazine
Interviews with Sandy
– for The Los Angeles Times with Maris Kreizman ("Compelling . . . A bracing work of art and a loving tribute to a man whose voice, no matter how unpolished, deserves to be heard.")
– for The Boston Globe with Kate Tuttle, president of the National Book Critics Circle
– for The Essay Review with Nicolás Medina Mora
– 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 Missoulian with Chris La Tray
– for The Daily Texan
– for The Daily Iowan
Radio & Podcast Appearances
– KCRW's The Organist
story about AKOMP, Uncle Bob, and Sandy, featuring Bob's music
– Slate's Dear Prudence
– MPR News with Kerri Miller
– IPR's Talk of Iowa
– WAMC's The Roundtable
– New Books in Psychology podcast
– KCUR's Up to Date
– XRAY.fm's In the Morning
– Woodstock Book Talk Radio!
– Blog Talk Radio with Cyrus Webb
– Moments with Marianne with Marianne Pestana
Sandy has published numerous pieces related to AKOMP, including:
99% Invisible – "The Kirkbride Plan"
Radio feature about the history of mental health care in America
Guernica – "Out of the Maze"
The story of Sandy encountering the painting on the AKOMP paperback, by former psychiatric patient William Kurelek, and about grappling with whose truths to listen to, when it comes to "mental illness"
Mad in America – "Media Errors in Covering Mental Health"
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'
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
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