Books

Anti-poverty activist and writer Pat Capponi dead at 70

Capponi wrote seven books, including five works of nonfiction and two mysteries. All her books were inspired by her own experiences living in Toronto and dealing with mental health issues.
Pat Capponi was a mental health and anti-poverty activist and writer. She wrote seven books, including five works of nonfiction and two mystery novels. (CBC News)

Anti-poverty and mental health activist and writer Pat Capponi has died. She was 70 years old. 

She was born in Montreal on Canada Day in 1949, one of five children. She struggled with mental health issues early in life, going in and out of institutions from her early 20s. She then moved to Toronto and, after spending some time in a rooming house in the Parkdale neighbourhood, decided to work to change the system. 

Capponi wrote about her own struggles in a series of memoirs, starting with Upstairs in the Crazy House in 1992.

Upstairs in the Crazy House chronicled her time spent in one of the institutions, as well as her early life, during which her entire family was physically abused by her father.

Her 2003 memoir Beyond the Crazy House explored how she managed to reconstruct her life and makes a case for how and why Canada's mental health system needs to change.

Capponi served on mental health committees and on the boards of non-profit organizations including the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. She also helped launch Voices from the Street, a leadership and public-speaking program for those living in poverty. 

In the 2000s, she began to write mystery novels, also inspired by her own life. 

Her mystery titles include Last Stop Sunnyside and The Corpse Will Keep. The mysteries feature a private investigator named Dana Leoni, who works in Parkdale. 

"I knew that you write what you know. And I know this area and I know the folks here. I stopped trying to be stellar and just said, 'OK, I'm going to write what I know, because that is interesting enough," she said to Shelagh Rogers in a 2009 interview on The Next Chapter.

"I love telling stories. I'm a public speaker. I find that storytelling, using real life, using humour, is much more effective at getting people onside. So that's what I try to do."

The mental health advocate, anti-poverty activist and writer spoke to Shelagh Rogers in 2009. 17:35

She was named a member of the Order of Canada in 2015. She was also a recipient of the Queen's Jubilee and the Diamond Jubilee medals.

"Cancer is the least of my concerns, I am not beaten or defeated by it, I will walk into the room under my own steam, and accept the mercy shot," Capponi wrote on her final Facebook post.  

"Think of me around high noon, and thank you for the comments and love and support. What a life you've allowed me!"

Corrections

  • An earlier version of had Pat Capponi's year of birth as 1941. She was born in 1949.
    Apr 06, 2020 3:58 PM ET

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