The Texas Book Festival in Austin has been connecting readers with authors from all over the country and the world since 1995. From its humble beginnings, the festival has grown to include hundreds of authors and host over 50,000 guests.
Sandy Allen is a nonbinary author featured in the 2018 lineup. Their book, “A Kind of Mirraculas Paradise: A True Story About Schizophrenia,” tells the story of their Uncle Bob’s being schizophrenic in America. Allen is a former Buzzfeed features editor. The Daily Texan had the opportunity to speak with Allen about their book and the power of writing about mental health.
Daily Texan: What inspired you to write ”A Kind of Mirraculas Paradise: A True Story About Schizophrenia”?
Sandy Allen: About 10 years ago I got a call from a number I didn’t have saved in my phone. It was my hermit uncle, and he wanted to mail me something. He mailed me this document that he had typed on his typewriter in all capital letters and it was very misspelled and it was punctuated with colons — it had slurs in it. It was this incredibly detailed account of his entire life. He wanted my help in getting the story out there because it was true. What I ended up doing was writing what I call a “cover” version of his story.
DT: How would you describe the current attitude toward mental healthcare in America?
SA: There’s a big split. Some people do not know anything about this topic — mental illness, mental health, mental healthcare — and some people do. A lot of that depends on people’s life experiences and professional experience. As I was figuring out how to write this book, that was one of the big things I was thinking about, was that split in audience. (There are) people like me before Bob sent me his manuscript, people who maybe have seen mental illness on the news or in a movie. Then there’s all these other people who really know what’s going on because they’re living it. They’re living being in the mental healthcare system or have a close relative in the mental healthcare system or they work in the system.
DT: Do you feel that your identity as a nonbinary gives you a different take on the world as a writer?
SA: I don’t know if I would ever have come out as nonbinary, as trans, had I not finished writing this book. As I was reading deeply about genetics and identity in order to understand schizophrenia, I ended up reading about gender just as often. I think it was one of those things where I had spent my whole life really trying to never look too squarely at gender because I knew if I did, I would be forced to come out. That was really scary, and I had no plans to. In a sense, I do think that Bob showed me the way.
Allen will be participating in a conversation about mental illness in a panel titled “Illnesses and Eccentricities: Understanding the People We Love” on Sunday, Oct. 28 from 3:30 to 4:15 p.m. in Capitol Extension Room E2.016 at 1100 Congress Avenue.