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 very unique way in which to deliver the story.”
President Katherine Bergeron, who introduced Krosoczka at the event, called Hey, Kiddo a “very special book” that teaches readers to see the dignity and humanity of others.
“As readers, we begin to find ourselves learning to see and to care about not only Jarrett, but also, all the other figures in the story, figures we might otherwise be inclined to reduce to a dismissive label—unwed mother, absent father, addict, alcoholic,” Bergeron said.
“Krosoczka makes us change our minds, because he makes us feel empathy. This, of course, is exactly the feeling we must harness if we ever hope to solve the looming public health crisis that this novel puts before us, the human suffering brought about by addiction.”
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.
In addition to his keynote presentation, Krosoczka gave presentations at local schools, led workshops for Connecticut College students and hosted book signings.
Marissa Domantay ’20, an art major, mathematics minor and scholar in the Social Justice and Sustainability Pathway, said she was excited to speak with Krosoczka at a lunch reception and attend one of his workshops.
“I’m actually working on my own graphic memoir about my life,” Domantay said. “[Krosoczka] taught me how to make word bubbles more expressive and to be mindful of how readers move across the page.”
“I also asked him about how he deals with the trauma as he is going through the process and he had great advice about self-care and stepping away when you need to,” she added.
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.
To continue the conversation about addiction, the College’s Office of Wellbeing and Health Promotion has partnered with One Book One Region and the Connecticut Healthy Campus Initiative to bring former professional basketball player and motivational speaker Chris Herren to campus Tuesday, Nov. 19. That event, which is open to the public, is at 8 p.m. in Evans Hall.
In 2017, Connecticut College was awarded a multiyear grant from the Connecticut Healthy Campus Initiative to launch an opioid prevention project, through which faculty, staff and students have worked with community partners to host programs on opioid awareness and prevention, trained campus safety officers on the administration of medications for overdose reversal, and provided students and staff with training on safe storage and disposal of medicine.