A book cover next to the portrait of a woman
Kristen Radtke, author of "Seek You: A Journey Through American Loneliness," the 2023 VCU Common Book. (Photo by Amy Ritter.)

‘Seek You’ selected as VCU’s 2023 Common Book

The graphic nonfiction text explores the ‘silent epidemic’ of loneliness in America and seeks to offer solutions as to how people can connect with those around them.

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“Seek You: A Journey Through American Loneliness,” a graphic nonfiction book by award-winning author Kristen Radtke that documents the “silent epidemic of loneliness” in American society, has been chosen as the 2023 Virginia Commonwealth University Common Book.

The 2021 book explores the ways in which “we attempt to feel closer to one another, and the distance that remains,” according to the publisher, Penguin Random House.

“Radtke explores the relationship between loneliness and longing, and what happens when we shut ourselves off from the rest of the world,” a reviewer from TIME wrote. “It’s a haunting read told through Radtke’s spare prose and often devastating graphics, coalescing into a powerful examination of why it can feel so hard to connect with other people.”

“Seek You” was named one of the best books of 2021 by TIME, NPR, Boston Globe, Buzzfeed, New York Public Library, Electric Literature and Kirkus.

VCU’s Common Book Program is a universitywide initiative that seeks to introduce first-year students to complex social issues through a common text. Hosted by University College and the Office of the Provost, the Common Book Program helps frame complex social issues in an interdisciplinary lens through which the book can be analyzed and discussed in an academic setting.

Constance Relihan, Ph.D., dean of University College, said she hopes the book will help spark conversations around mental health and well-being.

“I am excited that ‘Seek You’ will serve as our next Common Book,” Relihan said. “It is a deeply fascinating nonfiction comic that addresses issues of loneliness and the importance of human connection from a wide range of perspectives and disciplines — including experimental biology and psychology, sociology, television and film studies, and many more. Through ‘Seek You,’ I hope that the campus will be able to engage in conversations about student mental health and the still emerging effects of the pandemic on how we all relate to each other.”

All first-year students will receive a copy of “Seek You” that was printed specifically for VCU students with an introductory letter to the text by Relihan. The book will be used in the curriculum for UNIV 111 and UNIV 112. Both courses are taught by the University College’s Department of Focused Inquiry and are required for first-year students. The Common Book selection committee, which is made up of undergraduate and graduate students, faculty members from more than 20 departments and units and university leadership, selected the text.

“‘Seek You’ speaks to the collective feeling of loneliness shared by so many,” said Katelyn Harlow, a senior in the College of Humanities and Sciences majoring in English who also serves as a peer mentor in the Focused Inquiry Learning Lounge. “As a college student whose university experience took place mostly after the start of the pandemic, that feeling of isolation felt heard and shared while reading. The book sheds light onto an experience many of us have struggled with, but also highlights the human desire to seek connection. It’s a quick read, but packed with references to research, literature, art and social media, as well as personal experiences, and engaging illustrations, which gives it great range for students with varying interests.”

Radtke will deliver a virtual keynote address to VCU students, faculty, staff and the public on Oct. 11 at 7 p.m.

Radtke is also the author of the graphic nonfiction book, “Imagine Wanting Only This.” In 2019, she was the recipient of the Whiting Creative Nonfiction Grant. Radtke is the art director and deputy publisher of “The Believer.” Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Marie Claire, The Atlantic, The Guardian, The New York Times Magazine, Vogue and Harper’s, among other publications.

Leading up to the keynote address, the Common Book Program will host a series of on-campus events with VCU faculty and other community partners around “Seek You.” For more information on those events and the Common Book Program, visit commonbook.vcu.edu or follow on social media @VCUCommonBook.