New York Times bestselling author spends day on campus
New York Times bestselling author and illustrator Jarrett Krosoczka visited Cheshire Academy to reflect on his life of dealing with a mother battling addiction, handling rejection from publishing companies, and turning a hobby into a life-changing career.
On Oct. 24, Krosoczka spoke in front of the student body, faculty, and staff as part of Cheshire Academy’s Visiting Author series, made possible through the generous support of Michael Kahn ‘53 and his wife, Loretta.
“You have to keep writing to get better at it, just like anything else,” Krosoczka said, as advice to the students. “(With) any kind of art, be it visual or musical, you’re creating something not to make the best thing ever. You’re creating something so that the next thing is a little better, and then the next thing after that will be a little better. And, hopefully, you’re expanding and improving upon your work.”
Krosoczka is currently working on his 42nd book, and is well known for his “Jedi Academy,” “Lunch Lady,” and “Platypus Police Squad” series of graphic novels. In October 2018, he released “Hey, Kiddo,” a graphic memoir reflecting on his life of losing his mother, reconnecting with his father, and dealing with a family battling addiction. “Hey, Kiddo” was a finalist for the National Book Award.
Getting to the point of publishing more than 40 books was not easy for Krosoczka. At a young age, he separated from his mother and moved in with his grandparents. Throughout grade school, Krosoczka honed his talents in writing and drawing, ultimately pursuing his passion as a career at the Rhode Island School of Design.
During his junior year of college, Krosoczka sent one of his books to a publisher. A few months later, he received his first rejection letter—the first of many. He continued to send his book out for consideration and, after 11 publishing companies denied his draft, he reconsidered his approach.
“I loved this book, I believed in this book, but I still acknowledged that if I wanted to get to be a better author, I needed to keep writing, I needed to get more experience,” reflected Krosoczka.
He continued, “So, I wrote another book.”
That second book, too, failed. At one point, he focused strictly on submitting illustrations, again with no success.
“It got to the point where I had been sending my books out for two years and, after two years, I had nothing but rejection letters,” he said, “but I kept writing, because that’s what I wanted to do.”
Krosoczka took a different approach to his writing, developing “Good Night, Monkey Boy,” a children’s book about a young boy in a monkey suit who refuses to go to bed. The story caught the attention of one publishing company.
“Because I was pushing myself creatively and trying to come up with something different than my previous efforts, that is how my first book got published—on top of being persistent and not taking those rejections personally, keeping at it, and sending my book out there,” Krosoczka said.
Krosoczka’s list of published books only grew from there. In October 2012, he was called by a TEDx representative, asking if he would speak that evening. It was the first time he spoke publicly about his mother’s heroin addiction. His talk was picked up by TED and currently has nearly 1 million views.
When asked by a member of the faculty, Krosoczka said he had two goals in writing “Hey, Kiddo.”
“If there’s a young person, any reader of any age who has a family member who is addicted, that they can realize they’re not alone, that it’s not their fault, and that their parents’ addictions do not predicate (their future),” Krosoczka said.
His other goal was to bring to individuals raised in “idyllic” households a better understanding of what their peers might be going through. What he did not expect was that educators and grandparents would also come to benefit from the story, with teachers being able to connect closer to their students, and giving grandparents raising grandchildren hope that they will grow into successful adults.
A book signing followed, where students and faculty approached Krosoczka and shared their own stories of loved ones battling addiction.
Krosoczka said he expected people to confide in him as a result of his TED talk.
“I think it’s a way for them to get it off their chests and out into the world a little bit,” Krosoczka said. “Sometimes it’s the first time that a young reader expresses that and, more often than not, there’s another adult at the school who hears it and can follow up with it.”
Krosoczka urged individuals who may be dealing with difficult issues to talk to someone whom they trust.
“It helps to have someone to talk to,” Krosoczka said. “…Talk therapy is an amazing tool to process whatever is happening to you in life, even if you don’t think that you gave a huge traumatic thing to deal with. We all have stuff; we all have burdens in our brains, and we need to get them out of our systems in some way.”
Krosoczka later joined a group of students and faculty members for lunch, where he talked with small groups about his work and fielded questions. Following the meal, Krosoczka visited two classrooms to conduct question-and-answer periods.