Songs from the Black Chair


Songs from the Black Chair

A Memoir of Mental Interiors

Charles Barber

American Lives Series

206 pages
Line drawing


March 2007


$18.95 Add to Cart

About the Book

Day after day, night after night, desperate men come to sit in the black chair next to Charles Barber’s desk in a basement office at Bellevue and tell of their travails, of prison and disease, of violence and the voices that plague them. Between the stories, amid the peeling paint, musty odor, and flickering fluorescent light of his office, Barber observes that this isn’t really where he is supposed to be and reveals his privileged youth in contrast to his own nightmare of mental illness. By relating these troubled lives to his own, Barber illuminates some of the most disturbing and enduring truths of human nature.

Author Bio

Charles Barber is an associate of the Yale Program for Recovery and Community Health, Yale University School of Medicine.


“An amazing book. . . . Barber is a gifted writer, and the work he has produced is an important addition to the literature of both mental health and New York City.”—Jennifer Gonnerman, Village Voice

“Imaginative and beautifully written, with vivid imagery and wit. . . . Songs from the Black Chair should enjoy a wide audience.”—Journal of the American Medical Association

“For those who work in mental health services, the best teachers are often those who are themselves mentally ill. Thus, personal accounts that bring us closer to the inner maelstrom of mental illness—books such as William Styron's Darkness Visible, Sylvia Nasar's A Beautiful Mind . . . and now Charles Barber's equally eloquent and insightful Songs from the Black Chair—have long made important contributions to the field. . . . Barber's ability to convey the experience of mental illness is striking.”—New England Journal of Medicine

“[A] perceptive gem.”—Library Journal (starred review)

“[A] beautifully rendered look at other people’s, and the author’s, struggles with mental illness.”—Bloomsbury Review


2006 Connecticut Book Awards, sponsored by the Connecticut Center for the Book, biography or memoir category finalist
2005 Pushcart Prize for title essay "Songs from the Black Chair"

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