Day 16: Author recounts “spectacular plunge from competency into official madness.”

Each day leading up to the April 13 announcement of the Minnesota Book Awards, we highlight one of the thirty-two finalists. Today we feature 2013 Memoir & Creative Nonfiction Finalist:

Letters to a Young Madman by Paul GruchowLetters to a Young Madman by Paul Gruchow
Published by Levins Publishing
Category Sponsor: Leonard, Street and Deinard

In Letters to a Young Madman, a man of genius and of profound empathy for the mentally ill recounts his “spectacular plunge from competency into official madness.” Paul Gruchow’s account of his mental illness, which eventually claimed his life, explores the double injury inflicted on the mentally ill. First, there is the illness itself, with its often-debilitating symptoms. But then there is the more insidious injury made by society: stigmatization. In a voice remarkably clear, eloquent, and calm, Gruchow shows us why he came to regard the mentally ill as “his heroes.”

Excerpt from Letters to a Young Madman:

I was going to write about the year I spent getting my character adjusted in twice-a-week therapy sessions, but I realize now that the experience can adequately be summarized in a sentence or two. The therapy utterly failed because I never believed in it. And I did not believe in it because I knew that I was grieving half a dozen substantial losses, all of them unresolved. Any one of them might have explained my despair. I didn’t need to be defective in character to be unhappy. But I did need to acknowledge my grief, to feel it, and to find a way through it. I didn’t need somebody to explain me to myself, or fix me or teach me how to manage myself in six easy steps. I need somebody to listen. And because I didn’t get that, I lost an entire year of my life.

Paul Gruchow illustrationPaul Gruchow, once described as our contemporary Thoreau, wrote on subjects ranging from the culture of the tall grass prairie to what we teach (and fail to teach) rural children. His work is widely acclaimed for its lyrical prose and eloquence. He won both the Minnesota Book and Lifetime Achievement Awards and in the 1980’s edited The Worthington Globe, an award-winning newspaper. Paul Gruchow took his own life in Duluth, Minnesota, on February 22, 2004, at the age of 56.


“Gruchow communicates with incredible transparency how depression feels. He allows readers to feel his abyss and to empathize with the feeling of waking up in the morning paralyzed and unable to get out of bed for days at a time. He helps the reader understand what it feels like to lose one’s self-worth after being put on disability and being defined by what one is unable to do.” — Nichole Meier, Psych Central

Letters to a Young Madman is a collection of notes and thoughts of Paul Gruchow, as he ponders the nature of mental illness, the challenges of those with these disorders, what we can learn from their endeavors of life, and much more. With plenty to ponder about life and living around these illnesses, Letters to a Young Madman is a must for memoir and psychology collections, highly recommended.” — Midwest Book Review

“Extraordinary writing – such a huge range of emotion.” — MN Book Awards Judge

“We see mental illness from the inside out — the ways depression, trauma, grief, loss, and abuse influence our inner self… a unique elegy to, not the triumph, but the tragedy of the human spirit.” — Kenneth J. Doka,author of Disenfranchised Grief


Saint Paul Pioneer Press book reviewer Mary Ann Grossman reads “The Hospital” from Letters to a Young Madman. Audio begins at -4:45.

In the press:

“When Paul Gruchow died by suicide in 2004, he left seven eloquently written books that link humans with nature in an almost spiritual way. Now this native Minnesotan’s award-winning literary legacy is completed with publication of Letters to a Young Madman, a new memoir about Gruchow’s nearly lifelong struggle with depression.” (Full Article) — Mary Ann Grossman, Pioneer Press

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Gala Tickets on Sale now!

Award winners will be announced at the 25th Annual Minnesota Book Awards Gala on Saturday, April 13, 2013 at the Hilton Minneapolis. An author meet-and-greet and book signing reception precedes the awards ceremony, and the Epilogue after-party, sponsored by Tech Logic, includes complimentary champagne, desserts, and live music. Tickets on sale now. Click here for more information.

Have you read Letters to a Young Madman? What are your thoughts? We welcome your comments!

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Posted in Memoir & Creative Nonfiction

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