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Mark David O'Brien Edit Profile

journalist , poet

Mark David O'Brien, American poet, journalist. Ingram-Merril Foundation grantee, New York City, 1987.


O'Brien, Mark David was born on July 31, 1949 in Boston, Massachusetts, United States. Son of Walter Francis and Helen Agnes (Kelly) O'B.


Bachelor in English, University of California, Berkeley, 1982.


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. They remained friends until his death.

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

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, written with Gillian Kendall. Susan was portrayed by actress Robin Weigert.


  • 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. 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.



Walter Francis O'B.

Helen Agnes (Kelly) O'B.