SpeakEasy Blog

Seriously Questioning…Sandra Allen

Sandra Allen is the former BuzzFeed features editor and co-founder of the online literary magazine Wag’s Revue. Her essays have been featured in Best American Essays and Best American Science and Nature Writing. Sandra is the author of the memoir A Kind of Mirraculas Paradise: A True Story about Schizophrenia, about her uncle.

Sandra spoke at House of SpeakEasy’s Seriously Entertaining show on January 30th, Caught in the Act alongside Christopher J. Yates, Elif Shafak, and Michael Wolff. We spoke to Sandra ahead of the show…


Describe your current project: “In 2009, writer Sandra Allen got something in the mail from her uncle Bob. It was his autobiography, typed on sixty pages in all-capital letters. Bob was a self-described ‘hermit’ who lived in a Californian desert. Sandra didn’t know him well. On the phone, he said he wanted to get his story “out there” because it was “true.” In A Kind of Mirraculas Paradise: A True Story about Schizophrenia, she shares his story with the world.

“A Kind of Mirraculas Paradise is written in two fonts. In one, Allen tells her uncle Bob’s life story faithfully to his account — animating his childhood and teenage years in tumultuous late sixties Berkeley, CA. His world was changed irrevocably when one day at age sixteen, he was driven to a mental hospital, locked in a cell and injected with anti-psychotics. In a second font, Allen interlaces familial, historical, and medical contexts, seeking especially to better understand the “label” Bob received: ‘psychotic paranoid schizophrenic.’ The result is an utterly unique and electrifying work, one poised to change conversation about schizophrenia and about mental illness generally.”

What is your earliest memory involving reading or writing? I grew up a musician — a singer — so I think I’m always thinking about how my writing sounds. I read aloud a lot, in part because I’ve found the tongue is a better bullshit detector than the eyes.

What writer past or present do you wish you could eat dinner with? Joan Didion

What writer do you wish you could share with the world? Many people in this here world already know about them and their important work, but I’m a huge fan of Alok Vaid-Menon

What are you reading right now? I’m always reading lots of books at once, some for research and some for pleasure. For the latter right now I’m reading Carmen Machado’s short story collection Her Body and Other Parties and Jenny Zhang’s Sour Heart, Lucas Mann’s memoir Lord Fear and Jesmyn Ward’s novel Sing Unburied Sing. I just finished Aaron Apps’ memoir Intersex and Ada Limón’s collection of poetry Bright Dead Things.

What fictional character do you most closely identify with? Bugs Bunny

Are there any quotes you use to inspire you? I often think of quotes that my uncle wrote in his life story, which my book is based on. For example I think of his story’s final line: THE WORLD IS NUTS AND RIGHT NOW THATS FINE WITH ME:

Seriously Questioning…Christopher J. Yates

Christopher J. Yates was formally a puzzle editor in London, and the author of the debut novel, Black Chalk, a “Best of the Year” selection by NPR. His new novel Grist Mill Road received starred reviews from Booklist, Kirkus, and Publishers Weekly. Christopher spoke at House of SpeakEasy’s Seriously Entertaining show on January 30th, Caught in the Act alongside Sandra Allen, Elif Shafak,… Continue Reading

Seriously Questioning…David Friend

David Friend joined Vanity Fair as editor of creative development in 1998, after serving as Life magazine’s director of photography. Friend is the author of Watching the World Change: The Stories Behind the Images of 9/11. He has won Emmy and Peabody awards as an executive producer of 9/11, a CBS documentary that aired in… Continue Reading

Seriously Questioning…Laura Lippman

  Laura Lippman is a New York Times bestselling novelist who has won more than 20 awards for her fiction—and been nominated for 30 more. Since her debut in 1997, she has published 20 novels, a novella and a collection of short stories. Lit Hub recently named her one of the “essential” female crime writers of… Continue Reading

Seriously Questioning…James Forman Jr.

James Forman Jr. is one of the nation’s leading authorities on race, education, and the criminal justice system, and a tireless advocate for young people who others have written off.  Forman worked as a law clerk for Judge William Norris of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and Justice Sandra Day O’Connor of the U.S. Supreme… Continue Reading

Seriously Questioning…J.T. Rogers

J.T. Rogers is a playwright whose plays include  (Lincoln Center Theater, then Broadway; National Theatre, London, then West End); Blood and Gifts (Lincoln Center Theater; National Theatre); The Overwhelming (National Theatre, then UK tour with Out of Joint; Roundabout Theatre); White People (Off-Broadwaywith Starry Night Productions); and Madagascar (Theatre 503, London; Melbourne Theatre Company). For… Continue Reading

Seriously Questioning…Julie Scelfo

Julie Scelfo is a former staff writer/current contributor to The New York Times, where her stories about society and human behavior reframe popular ideas and ask us to rethink our basic assumptions. Scelfo has contributed to The St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture, Ad Nauseam: A Survivor’s Guide to American Consumer Culture and her work… Continue Reading

Seriously Questioning…Lev Grossman

Lev Grossman is the author of Warp, Codex, and The Magicians series, the first of which was one The New Yorker‘s best books of the year. The Magicians books have now been published in twenty-five countries. Grossman was both the lead technology writer and the book critic for Time magazine for fifteen years, from 2002… Continue Reading

Seriously Questioning…Rachel Eliza Griffiths

Rachel Eliza Griffiths is a poet and photographer. She received the MFA in Creative Writing from Sarah Lawrence College. A Cave Canem and Kimbilio Fellow, she is the recipient of fellowships including Yaddo, Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center, Cave Canem Foundation, Vermont Studio Center, The Millay Colony, and others. In 2011, Griffiths appeared in the… Continue Reading

Seriously Questioning…David Kilcullen

David Kilcullen is the Chairman of Caerus Associates. Before founding Caerus, he was Special Advisor to the Secretary of State from 2007-2009 and Senior Advisor to General David Petraeus in Iraq in 2007. He is the author of bestselling books The Accidental Guerrilla, Counterinsurgency and Out of the Mountains. His most recent book is The… Continue Reading

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