7 Institutionalised Male Writers

3 weeks ago I dedicated a blog post to the subject of female writers who spent time in mental institutions. Today it is the men’s turn.

Here are 7 male writers who spent time in mental institutions:


Paulo Coelho 


(Born: August 24th 1947)

Prior to becoming the best-selling Portuguese language author ever, Brazilian novelist Paulo Coelho was a successful songwriter. His seminal work, The Alchemist, has been translated into 80 languages. At the age of 17 Coelho’s parents, concerned about his introverted, non-conformist behavior, had him committed to a mental institution, where he was fed tranquilizers and given electroshock treatments. The author escaped several times before he was finally released at the age of 20.


Richard Brautigan


(January 30th 1935 – September 14th 1984)

American novelist, poet and short story writer Richard Brautigan is best remembered for his 1967 novel Trout Fishing in America. In 1955, Brautigan, having decided that he was insane, demanded that he be arrested. When the police refused he threw a rock through the police station window. During his 10-day jail term Brautigan was examined by a physician, who had him committed to a mental institution. During the author’s 3-month stay he received electroshock treatments.


Tennessee Williams

Tennessee Williams

(March 26th 1911 – February 25th 1983)

American playwright Tennessee Williams found fame with his play The Glass Menagerie in 1944. By 1959 Williams had won 2 Pulitzer Prizes, 3 New York Drama Critics Awards, 3 Donaldson Awards and a Tony Award. After the death of his lover in 1963 the heavy drinking Williams spiralled into depression and drug use, resulting in several stints in mental facilities, where he was given injections and sedatives.


David Foster Wallace


(February 21st 1962 – September 12th 2008)

David Foster Wallace was an American novelist, essayist and short story writer. Time magazine included his novel Infinite Jest in its best 100 English language novels from 1923 to 2005. In 1989 the heavy drinking author, who was prone to fits of depression, had a 4-week stint at the McLean mental hospital. With the help of medication he was able to overcome his depression and addiction. Unfortunately however the depression returned and he committed suicide in 2008.


The Marquis de Sade

Marquis de Sade

(June 2nd 1740 – December 2nd 1814)

This Marquis de Sade was a French aristocrat, who wrote novels, plays, short stories and political tracts. He is best remembered for his erotic writing which depicted violent sexual fantasies. The words sadist and sadism are derived from his name. In 1803, shortly after Napoleon ordered that de Sade be imprisoned, he was declared insane and sent to Charenton asylum, where he remained until his death in 1814.


Ezra Pound 


(October 30th 1885 – November 1st 1972)

American poet and critic Ezra Pound was an influential figure in the early modernist movement. In 1945 Pound was arrested in Italy for treason and returned to the United States, where he was incarcerated in St. Elizabeth’s Hospital for the criminally insane in Washington DC. At the hospital he was diagnosed with schizophrenia. During his 13 years residing there Pound worked on various translations.  He was eventually freed in 1958.


Robert Lowell


(March 1st 1917 – September 12th 1977)

Boston born poet Robert Lowell’s fourth book of poems, Life Studies, won the 1960 National Book Award. His other accolades include winning the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1947 and 1974. The poet suffered from bipolar disorder and was hospitalised on a number of occasions, including in 1954 after the death of his mother. Later Lowell was able to control his illness through the use of Lithium. His wrote about his experiences in his confessional poetry.


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