On Vlogging and Vanquishing Mental Illness: John Green

Posted on Nov 08, 2018

With intimate, inspiring stories that have captured today’s youth and shed light on various social issues—such as mental and physical illness, peer pressure, and LGBT—vlogger and author John Green has stood as a rising figure in American young adult fiction for over a decade. However, not many readers know that his stories are almost autobiographical in nature, as he has lived his whole life fighting demons of his own.

John Green

Green was born on August 24, 1977, in Indianapolis, Indiana, the elder of Mike and Sydney Green’s two sons. Shortly after Green’s birth, the family moved to Michigan and Alabama before eventually settling in Florida. When Green was around six years old, he began to show signs of obsessive-compulsive disorder, fearing food contamination and eating certain foods at specific times of day. “I spent a lot of my childhood consumed with obsessive worry and dread,” admitted Green in a recent New York Times interview. This condition would stay with him and manifest into more serious incidents throughout his adult life, prompting Green to seek medical attention and create an outlet through writing fiction and eventually vlogging.

Green attended preparatory and middle school in Orlando before graduating high school in Alabama; his experiences as a victim of high-school bullying would later inspire his novels. He then graduated from Kenyon College in 2000 with a double major in English and religious studies before working as a student chaplain at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. His experiences at the children’s hospital, which housed and nursed young patients of life-threatening diseases, inspired him to become a writer instead of joining the clergy.

After moving to Chicago, Green began working as an editor for book review journal Booklist. It was at this time that Green’s mental health took a serious nosedive. Although he had been managing his anxiety and OCD quite well with medication and therapy, at 24 years old, he became so depressed that he couldn’t eat for days (drinking liters of soda in place of meals) and had trouble reading for work. Green eventually went to stay with his parents and focused on getting better before returning to Chicago, where he began writing his debut novel, Looking for Alaska (2005). In the semiautobiographical work, bullied boarding-school student Miles Halter meets the beautiful and mysterious Alaska, whose extraordinary personality and sudden disappearance would change his life in enormous ways. Looking for Alaska won the 2006 Michael L. Printz Award for U.S. young adult literature although it wouldn’t receive major commercial attention until 2012, making the New York Times Best Seller list.

Looking for Alaska

A year later, Green wrote and published his second novel, An Abundance of Katherines (2006), about a teenage prodigy named Colin Singleton who has dated 19 girls, all named Katherine, and struggled with depression and the pressuring need to be “unique.” The novel was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and was named a Michael L. Printz Honor Book in 2007. That same year, Green and his younger brother, Hank, started a YouTube channel called VlogBrothers, wherein the pair would exchange video messages, in reality addressing a wide online audience, and discuss various topics, from world politics, literature, and history to mundane yet fun facts. The channel was a booming success. From there, the Green brothers produced several vlog series, launched a number of well-known charity projects and conferences, and released over a thousand videos, gaining over 3 million subscribers and hundreds of millions of views.

After cowriting Let It Snow: Three Holiday Romances (2008) with fellow YA writers Maureen Johnson and Lauren Myracle, Green released his third novel, Paper Towns (2008). The novel describes the curious relationship between two childhood friends: Quentin “Q” Jacobsen, an ordinary, unpopular high-schooler, and Margo Roth Spiegelman, an adventurous, quirky girl who runs away and leaves clues to her location, which Q and his friends find and follow. Both Let It Snow and Paper Towns landed tenth and fifth place, respectively, in the 2009 New York Times Best Seller list. The following year, Green cowrote another novel, his first LGBT-themed work, with another YA writer, David Levithan, called Will Grayson, Will Grayson (2010), about two teenage boys who share the same name but possess different personalities—yet another New York Times Best Seller list favorite, holding its spot for three weeks.

In 2012, Green published his fourth novel, The Fault in Our Stars, which tells the bittersweet love story of two teenage cancer patients, Hazel Grace Lancaster and Augustus Waters, and their collaborative search for something worth living for. The novel, which was based on Green’s experiences at a children’s hospital years before his literary career began, is his most critically and commercially successful work—selling more than 23 million copies worldwide, holding the number one spot on the New York Times Best Seller list for several weeks, naming Green one of the 100 most influential people by Time Magazine, and spawning a film adaptation that same year starring Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort, a critical and box-office hit.

Three years after the overwhelming success of The Fault in Our Stars, Green experienced severe anxiety. He expressed through interviews that he feared writing again because of internal pressure, starting and abandoning several unfinished manuscripts—“I felt very scared of writing because I was in the shadow of success.” However, he managed to publish another novel based on his own challenges with mental health called Turtles All the Way Down (2017), about a 16-year-old girl named Aza Holmes who suffers from OCD and struggles to maintain her relationships because of her condition. Green considers the novel his most personal work and thanks his doctors, family, and friends for the help he’d received over the years in the book’s acknowledgments. “Having OCD is something that is an ongoing part of my life and I assume will probably be a part of my life for the rest of it.”

Green presently resides in Indianapolis, Indiana, his place of birth, with his wife and two children, continuing to write books and launch several online projects with his brother. He turns 41 years old on August 24 this year.

August is the month for us at 1-Hour Proofreading to celebrate young adult literature as well as several popular writers within this genre. For more special features on famous writers, novelists, poets, and so on, check out our Author Highlights series on the 1-Hour Proofreading blog!


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