The Boy Who Listened To Paintings: A Memoir

Dean Kostos (Author)


Bullied to the brink of suicide, Dean Kostos spent two years in the mental hospital where his mother had stayed. While The Boy Who Listened To Paintings addresses mental illness in adolescents, in many of its most drastic guises, it also celebrates the transformative power of art, and stresses that in the formation of our multi-faceted characters, it is perhaps the darkest and longest travails, treated with both candor and humor in this memoir, that most enduringly shape us.

Product Details

$18.00  $16.56
Spuyten Duyvil
Publish Date
October 01, 2019
5.24 X 0.61 X 7.99 inches | 0.69 pounds
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About the Author

Dean Kostos's most recent collection is Pierced by Night-Colored Threads. His previous books include This Is Not a Skyscraper (recipient of the Benjamin Saltman Poetry Award, selected by Mark Doty), Rivering, Last Supper of the Senses, The Sentence That Ends with a Comma, and the chapbook Celestial Rust. He coedited Mama's Boy (a Lambda Book Award finalist) and edited Pomegranate Seeds (its debut reading was held at the United Nations). His poems and personal essays have appeared in over 300 journals and anthologies, such as Boulevard, Chelsea, Cimarron Review, The Dos Passos Review, Mediterranean Poetry (Sweden), New Madrid, Memoir Journal, Southwest Review, Stand Magazine (UK), Storyscape Journal, Western Humanities Review, and on Oprah Winfrey's website His choral text, Dialogue: Angel of War, Angel of Peace, was set to music by James Bassi and performed by Voices of Ascension. His literary criticism has appeared on the Harvard UP website and elsewhere. A multiple Pushcart-Prize nominee, he served as literary judge for Columbia University's Gold Crown Awards and received a Yaddo fellowship. He has taught at Wesleyan, The Gallatin School of NYU, and The City University of New York. His poem "Subway Silk" was translated into a film by Jill Clark and screened at Tribeca and at the San Francisco Indiefest. He presented his paper "Schemes and Schemata: Endless Play" and read his poems at Harvard's Mahindra Humanities Center.


"Dean Kostos's harrowing and redemptive memoir, The Boy Who Listened to Paintings, is a lucid portrait of the artist as an adolescent mental patient, whose self-destructive despair is overcome by therapy,
connections with other patients, painting, and poetry ('even if the poem was about despair and suicide, it wasn't depressing'); and at the last by the kindly intervention of influential arts patrons. We experience his nightmare through the filter of his adult survival and recovery. One of the loveliest characters is Peggy, a lobotomized teacher, who speaks lines of oblique poetry--seemingly cryptic, but also inspired. In an epilogue, he sums up: 'I've done my best to reconstruct the patients' hurts, voices, and beautiful audacity.' His 14-16 year old Kostos has the vulnerability of Holden Caufield
combined with the anguished visions of, say, van Gogh, William Burroughs, Robert Lowell, or Richard Yates."

--DeWitt Henry, author of Sweet Marjoram, founding editor of Ploughshares

A child with a vision is discovering his talent--but does he have to be absolutely insane to follow his gift? Dean Kostos's memoir, The Boy Who Listened to Paintings, tells the incredible story of a young, middle-class, gay boy of Greek heritage who catches his beloved, imaginative mother's "crazy germs." Ostracized in the wake of her breakdown, this son from a prominent family (his father is the town mayor) spends two years in a mental hospital. All alone, he has to reckon with his gun-toting brother, the fierce prejudices of mental health professionals, the intense bullying in schools, and the drug culture peer pressure in the "Toot," as he calls the hospital where he manages to survive. All that is thanks to a slow realization that art itself is health. Riveting--and outraging now--The Boy Who Listened to Paintings is a warmly brilliant memoir of adolescence and mental health to inspire all of us."
Molly Peacock, author of Paradise, Piece by Piece

This harrowing account of a boy's (mis)treatment in a mental institution, where he narrowly missed becoming one more suicide statistic, offers much to ponder concerning highly topical issues like family dysfunction, bullying, homophobia, sexual harassment, and the failure of our society to support its young people. Tragedy here has a good outcome, though, when the victim finds his way out of the infernal maze with the assistance of art, Asian spirituality, and Christianity. Inevitably the memoir calls to mind the old narrative of Christ's harrowing of Hell, and we greet the escapee with sighs of relief and cheers for his will to regain his health and to transform suffering into a work of art.
Alfred Corn, author of Contradictions and Unions

Previous praise for Dean Kostos's poetry:

The grace of Dean Kostos's texts (I would call it unconscious grace, for that is the adjective which permits all heaven as much as all hell to explode, to let fly) is the result of another effort, not even the effort to please, but merely--merely!--the will to tell the truth, to tell what happened, what didn't. ...
Richard Howard