A portarit of a woman next to a book cover
Kristen Radtke, author of “Seek You: A Journey Through American Loneliness,” said college “offers a level of freedom that we did not have before.”

‘Seek You’ author encourages VCU students to make college a time of self-discovery

In a virtual keynote address, Kristen Radtke, whose work about loneliness is this year’s VCU Common Book, highlights the “opportunity to try out different versions of yourself.”

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College can be a lonely time of change, but instead of feeling overwhelmed, students can make it a launching point for who they will become, author Kristen Radtke told a Virginia Commonwealth University audience on Wednesday.

Radtke’s book “Seek You: A Journey Through American Loneliness” is the 2023 VCU Common Book, a universitywide initiative that introduces first-year students to complex social issues through a common text. In her virtual keynote address to students, faculty, staff and the public, Radtke discussed elements of the graphic nonfiction work, including community, technology and the arts.

She noted that “Seek You” could resonate with college students, as it deals with themes that she herself experienced at that time of life.

“I think back to college as a time of loneliness and transition,” Radtke said. “But I was able to find a new version of myself during that time. It’s a new chance to think for yourself. It’s an opportunity to try out different versions of yourself. It offers a level of freedom that we did not have before.”

Throughout her keynote, Radtke read sections of “Seek You,” which she both wrote and illustrated, and fielded submitted questions from students. The Department of Focused Inquiry teaches the Common Book in its UNIV 111 and 112 sections as a required text.

Radtke discussed how writing “Seek You” stemmed from experiencing her own loneliness. The project started with her drawing figures of people she would see in her day-to-day life in New York City: the person standing on the street corner looking off into the distance in a kind of daze, the bodega clerk scrolling endlessly on their phone behind the counter.

These early drawings are where she thought the project would stop, Radtke said. But the Edward Hopper-esque sketches, along with her own feelings of loneliness, kept pushing her toward researching the subject further and to examine it through an interdisciplinary lens. 

Writing about loneliness and illustrating “Seek You,” ironically, are what allowed Radtke to feel less alone and to have a better understanding about how others endure similar feelings, she said. Putting her thoughts on paper was a means of reckoning with a sentiment that almost everyone experiences. 

“Writing is a form of seeking,” Radtke said. “It is a desire to put something into the world that does not already exist. Looking at the untamable fury of our world is what is worth writing about.”

Hosted by University College and the Office of the Provost, VCU’s 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. To see more Common Book events happening this semester, click here.