Jan Arends was a gifted poet and writer of short stories but also an alcoholic and a sociopath who spent much of his short life in psychiatric care. These aspects of his complex personality come together brilliantly in Keefman, a collection of short stories published in the heyday of the anti-psychiatry movement. It has since become a literary classic. The book consists of two extended narratives and eleven shorter pieces, almost all focusing on characters who walk the thin line between madness and normality. The elderly man in ‘The Suicide’ pretends to hang himself so that he can be admitted to an asylum to escape his domineering wife. In ‘The Newspaper Eater’ the protagonist subjects himself to humiliation at the hands of a couple he regards as his friends. Mr Koopman in ‘The Breakfast’ tries to flee the squalor of a psychiatric clinic by climbing up a tree. The two longer stories are also the most powerful. ‘Bedsit Bachelor’ is an office clerk’s disturbing account of a descent into poverty and degradation when in the grip of depression. The title story ‘Keefman’ takes the form of six monologues in which a patient rails against his doctor. Keefman is angered by society’s intolerance of mental illness and regards psychiatrists as the extension of an uncaring regime. He accuses doctors of refusing to listen even though “people with a psychiatric disorder have an even greater need to be understood than others”. Keefman’s angry tone of voice is clearly unbalanced yet there is no denying the truth in his embittered attack on the system. Almost fifty years on, conditions in most psychiatric institutions have changed considerably but Arends’ literary plea to treat the patient as a human being remains as topical and relevant as ever.

At the relaunch of all of Jan Arends' books + his biography, his brother Ruud (middle) receives the first copies.

At the relaunch of all of Jan Arends' books + his biography, his brother Ruud (middle) receives the first copies.


  • Jan Arends (1925-1974) is a literary gem, waiting to be discovered by foreign publishers
  • Exquisite and small oeuvre of both prose and poetry
  • Selection of stories and poems available in English. Here are some poems, and here's a prose sample
  • Translations will be subsidized by Het Nederlands Letterenfonds


Jan Arends (1925 – 1974) was raised in a Catholic care home and went on to lead a turbulent life, stumbling from one short-lived job to the next. All the while he wrote poems and stories that focused on his battles with officialdom and the medical establishment. He committed suicide in 1974, days before the publication of his final collection of poems Lunchpauzegedichten (Lunch Break Poems). He soon became a cult figure whose work has since been rediscovered by generation after generation. Keefman has achieved classic status and is now in its eleventh edition.


“Books such as Keefman are few and far between. In my view the Nobel Prize would not be too great an honor for an entire oeuvre as good as the title story or a story such as ‘Bedsit Bachelor’.” Rudy Kousbroek

“This is prose that inflicts pain. It moves you and, most important of all, it stays with you. […] Keefman should be compulsory reading for every aspiring psychiatrist.” Thomas Heerma van Voss, De Correspondent



Lebowski Publishers / Oscar van Gelderen

E: oscar.vangelderen@lebowskipublishers.nl

Mobile: + 31 646096823


In collaboration with

De Bezige Bij / Marijke Nagtegaal

E: m.nagtegaal@debezigebij.nl

Tel: + 31 203059810