Letters to a Young Madman: A Memoir

Pioneer Press: Minnesota Book Award finalists announced

Press Release: The Mentally Ill Were His Heroes

Pioneer Press: Minnesota writer Paul Gruchow’s posthumous memoir details the weight of depression



This is a book for clients, for therapists, and for people who care…

In Letters to a Young Madman, a man of genius, of uncanny writing ability, and of profound empathy for the mentally ill, recounts his “spectacular plunge from competency into official madness.” Paul Gruchow’s account of the 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.”

Read more about Letters to a Young Madman at www.letterstoayoungmadman.com

Available at bookstores everywhere and online at Itasca Books


Excerpts from reviews of Letters to a Young Madman:

“This book again awakened something in me. I have always been curious about mental illness, and compassionate toward those who are afflicted by it, in whatever form. This book has led me to join NAMI, rebuild my compassion, and really take a deeper look at mental illnesses, and specifically our cultural response to them.” (Full Review)

Christy, Goodreads review


“Gruchow wants us to experience ‘official madness’ from the inside out in the hope that empathy might bring about changes to the treatment system and lessen the stigma of the diagnosis, which as he reveals, is often nothing but a guess.”

Kenneth J. Burt
The Corresponder
Minnesota State University Mankato


“Gruchow has left us with a thought-provoking work. It fosters a desire to remove the stigma that surrounds mental illness and replace it with understanding and compassion for those who suffer.” (Full Review)

Kimberly Logan-Elwell
Portland Book Review


“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.” (Full Review)

Nichole Meier
Psych Central


“Paul Gruchow’s posthumously published Letters to a Young Madman about his own descent into madness is some of his best and most interesting work.”

Frank Bures
thirty two Magazine.


“Paul Gruchow was the author of seven lyrical books including Journal of a Prairie Year, The Necessity of Empty Places, and Boundary Waters: The Grace of the Wild. He also suffered for decades from mental illness, attempting suicide several times and enduring incarceration in mental hospitals. In 2003, he began this memoir, to chronicle his own experiences and to de-stigmatize the mentally ill. Gruchow writes lyrically, cogently, wryly–and wittily–about his unrelenting depression. In “Professionals 2,” Gruchow describes one treatment option as “another downward step in my spectacular plunge from competency into official madness.” Gruchow’s compelling prose enlightens much as initiate Temple Grandin shines light into the closed world of autism. On February 22, 2004, Gruchow did commit suicide, but bequeathed this valuable testament.”

E.B. Boatner
Lavender Magazine


“Crazy, nuts, insane, the labels one takes on when their mental illness becomes known. “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 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.” (Full Review)

Midwest Book Review


“One of my favorite quotes from the book is ‘We no longer believe, as we did 250 years ago, that the mentally ill are animals, but we are not yet ready to grant that they are fully human either.’ So true!!”

Ken Barlow
KSTP Meteorologist
Co-Founder Wellstone-Barlow Mental Health Initiative


Letters to a Young Madman: A Memoir, the last book Paul Gruchow wrote before ending his life in 2004, is a sobering account of his lifelong struggle with depression.” (Full Article)

Minneapolis Star Tribune


“I believe Paul Gruchow’s book ranks with William Styron’s Darkness Visible in its harrowing depiction of clinical depression and our not always successful attempts to treat it.”

Stephen Maxwell, MSW, LICSW
University of Minnesota, School of Social Work


“This book will resonate with anyone who has experienced depression, or knows those who have experienced mental illness. This is a book that should be read by anyone who works with the mentally ill, and anyone who cares about the human experience. It is at heart a cry for help from someone who wasn’t able to triumph over his illness, and hopefully it will help all of us to understand that cry and respond to it when we hear it.”  See full review at DennisDeery.com

Dennis Deery
Goodreads review


Listen to the Twin Cities St. Paul Pioneer Press reviewer Mary Ann Grossman read from Letters to a Young Madman. Audio begins at -4:45.


“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, PhD
Disenfranchised Grief


“This is a book for clients, for therapists, and for people who care. It is a remarkable chronicle of Paul Gruchow’s life’s journey and his personal experience with emotional struggles and mental illness. It is a first hand account with personal descriptions of admission to a psychiatric ward, electroconvulsive shock treatment, and so many other things familiar to the mentally ill, but not everyone else. What is illuminating about this very honest and direct personal account is the integration of personal observations with philosophical statements and ideas.

Gruchow quotes a psychologist who advised clients be asked, ‘Whoever gave you the idea that you ought to be happy all the time?’ Indeed his own journey was painful and he does not mince words about that. He does this with the power of a confessional poet like Anne Sexton. And while heroic, he does not end happily. Words I will not forget summarize this: ‘My own story does not end with me bathed in bright sunlight and the Hallelujah Chorus playing in the background. It ends with me alive, more so some days than others. That has to be enough, because it’s all there is.’”

Gary Schoener, Clinical Psychologist
Director of Consultation & Training, Walk-In Counseling Center, Minneapolis, MN


“Interesting how those who have died continue to teach us beyond the grave. Letters To a Young Madman shares not only the struggles, hopes and helplessness of Paul’s own life, but reminds those of us in health care that, like a ripple in the water, mental illness also affects family, friends, co-workers, and yes, even those of us who try to provide care. Paul directly, and indirectly, shared the ‘wisdom’ that came from exploring his own dark emotions… his own grief, fear and despair. As therapists we need to listen to his words related to helping and supporting, words that help our patients/clients ‘find meaning in the suffering.’ I strongly recommend this book to anyone in the health care field, and especially those working daily with individuals and families on the loss journey…the journey of both suffering and hope.”

Ben Wolfe, M.Ed.
Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker, Fellow in Thanatology,

Program Manager/Grief Therapist, St. Mary’s Medical Center’s Grief Support Center, Duluth, MN
Past President, The Association for Death Education and Counseling.


“I find Gruchow’s writing style to be very intelligent, incisive and spare–which I really like for a book like this. He’s very frank and up front about his own great struggles, which makes for compelling reading.”

Henry Emmons, MD
The Chemistry of Joy, The Chemistry of Calm, and The Chemistry of Joy Workbook


“As a psychologist and a creative writer, I recommend this fascinating book to anyone who wants to read about mental illness from the inside.”

Cathy McClure Gildiner
Psychologist and author of Too Close to the Falls and After the Falls: Coming of Age in the Sixties


Trackbacks & Pings

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>