The first time New York Times bestselling author Jarrett Krosoczka publicly told the story of his upbringing in a family plagued by addiction, he had just four hours to prepare.
“I got a call on a Friday afternoon,” Krosoczka told a packed audience of faculty, staff, students and community members at the annual One Book One Region event at Connecticut College Sept. 17. The headliner for TEDxHampshireCollege had dropped out, Krosoczka said, and the producer wanted to know if he would fill in.
“I said, ‘Okay, is it this Saturday? Is it next Saturday?’ She said, ‘No … it’s tonight.’”
Undeterred, Krosoczka took the stage to tell the story of how he went from a little boy who loved to draw to the author of dozens of books for children, including the wildly popular Lunch Lady and Jedi Academy graphic novel series, nurtured by his teachers and the grandparents who raised him in the midst of his mother’s heroin addiction.
The impromptu talk went viral, and inspired Krosoczka to write Hey, Kiddo, a graphic memoir about his search for his father, his difficult interactions with his mother and his path to becoming an artist, which would go on to become a National Book Award Finalist.
“As an author, I present at elementary, middle and high schools. Every single place I went, I would meet a person who related [to my story], because they had a parent who had an addiction, they were being raised by grandparents, they had a parent who was incarcerated, they had a parent who died in an overdose,” Krosoczka said.
“It wouldn’t matter: suburban, rural, urban. I could be at a private school with an incredibly expensive tuition; I could be at a school that was 99 percent free and reduced lunch. In the same sentence, they are saying, ‘I like to draw Garfield too, and also my mother’s addicted to heroin.’
“I thought, here’s a story I always thought I might want to write; now this is a story I feel the responsibility to write. I’ve lived this experience, I know the emotions, and I have a unique way in which to deliver the story.”
Thousands of people in the greater New London region read Hey, Kiddo as part of the One Book One Region of Eastern Connecticut initiative, including all Connecticut College first-year students. Krosoczka’s visit to the region was the culminating event for the program, which included dozens of book discussions, lectures, artists workshops and other events all across eastern Connecticut.
This is the fourth year the College has partnered with One Book One Region to bring community members and the College community together to discuss ideas, broaden appreciation of reading and break down barriers among people. Previously, the College hosted Exit West author Mohsin Hamid, Homegoing author Yaa Gyasi, and Just Mercy author Bryan Stevenson.