Mark O'Brien (poet)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Mark O'Brien
Born (1949-07-31)July 31, 1949
Boston, Massachusetts
Died July 4, 1999(1999-07-04) (aged 49)
Occupation Poet, Journalist, Activist
Spouse(s) Lalkrishna

Mark O'Brien (July 31, 1949 – July 4, 1999) was a journalist, poet, and advocate for the disabled. He has been the subject of two films: Breathing Lessons: The Life and Work of Mark O'Brien, which won an Academy Award in 1997, and The Sessions in which he was portrayed by John Hawkes, a film that won the audience award in the U.S. Dramatic category at the Sundance Film Festival in 2012.

The Sessions was based on his essay, "On Seeing a Sex Surrogate", which appeared in the Sun magazine in 1990. The sex surrogate was named Cheryl Cohen-Greene.[1][2] They remained friends until his death.[3]

Personal life[edit]

O'Brien contracted polio in 1955 and spent the rest of his life paralyzed and requiring an iron lung.[4] In the iron lung he attended UC Berkeley, produced his poetry and articles, and became an advocate for disabled people.[4] He co-founded a small publishing house, Lemonade Factory, dedicated to poetry written by people with disabilities.[5]

O'Brien was the author of several volumes of poetry, including Breathing, and an autobiography entitled, How I Became a Human Being: A Disabled Man’s Quest for Independence,[6] written with Gillian Kendall.[7]

The meeting of O'Brien and his life partner, Susan Fernbach,[8] is depicted in The Sessions. Susan was portrayed by actress Robin Weigert. Helen Hunt played Cheryl in the movie, which brought her an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress nomination, while O'Brien was portrayed by Academy Award nominated actor John Hawkes, which brought him a nomination for the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama.


  1. ^ Schwarzbaum, Lisa (2012-01-28). "Sundance 2012: 'The Surrogate': A story of sex and the single guy with polio makes for a hot crowd-pleaser of a movie". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 16 November 2012. 
  2. ^ O'Brien, Mark (May 1990). "On Seeing a Sex Surrogate". The Sun Magazine, issue 174. Retrieved 16 November 2012. 
  3. ^ Guthmann, Edward (January 10, 2012). "Surrogate sex partner inspires story, film". Retrieved 10 March 2014. 
  4. ^ a b Smith, Wesley J (December 28, 2012). "Mark O'Brien's Triumph (It Wasn't About Sex)". First Things. Retrieved 29 December 2012. 
  5. ^ "Mark O'Brien, 49, Journalist And Poet in Iron Lung, Is Dead", The New York Times, July 11, 1999.
  6. ^ Horn, John (2012-01-22). "Sundance 2012: A 65-year-old takes on disability and sex in 'The Surrogate'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2012-01-29. 
  7. ^ O’Brien, Mark; Kendall, Gillian (2012). How I Became a Human Being. A Disabled Man’s Quest for Independence (paperback ed.). University of Wisconsin Press. ISBN 978-0-299-18434-6. Retrieved May 2014.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  8. ^ Cinema review .

External links[edit]