Mission Creek: Sandra Allen Reading
MERF, Room 2136 (375 Newton Rd, Iowa City) — Friday, April 6 at 12 p.m., Free
Mission Creek Lit Walk: Sandra Allen
Saint Burch (127 Iowa Av, Iowa City) — Friday, April 6 at 6 p.m., Free
Sandra Allen had a fondness for her Uncle Bob, but she wasn’t sure that extended to trying to make sense of his autobiography. Bob sent Allen his text while she was a grad student in the University of Iowa’s Nonfiction Writing Program. The manuscript offered plenty of barriers to entry:
“I flipped through the pages,” Allen writes in A Kind of Mirraculas Paradise: A True Story of Schizophrenia, “which were still curled with the memory of his typewriter and stank like cigarettes. He’d used almost exclusively capital letters, with no paragraph breaks; each page was a wall of text. There were colons everywhere, sometimes big rows of them, and the spelling indeed looked pretty bad. There were places where he’d typed letters on top of one another, or crossed things out and written other things in.”
It was a gradual process, but eventually Allen found a way to share Bob’s story. The resulting book — which presents Allen’s “cover” version of Bob’s story and her own investigations into her extended family and the broader context of psychiatric interventions as experienced by her uncle — is an extraordinarily empathic journey into the mind and lived experience of a man who struggled to understand and explain his life.
Allen masterfully navigates the challenges presented by Bob’s text, occasionally — and powerfully — letting Bob’s words appear in their original format. She finds and amplifies Bob’s voice without judgement, asking the reader to engage with her uncle’s life on his terms. The result is thought-provoking and moving — and a bit miraculous in its own right. I urge you to let Allen introduce you to her Uncle Bob.