Monday Mix editorial: Talent in twos: Jarrett Krosoczka and Kelly Link

  • Jarrett J. Krosoczka, author of a new graphic novel called Hey, Kiddo, looks through drawings used in the book.

  • Kelly Link

Published: 10/6/2018 7:00:42 PM

Since publishing his first book when he was just 22, children’s author and illustrator Jarrett Krosoczka of Florence has won widespread praise for his work: picture books for very young readers; the “Lunch Lady” graphic novel series for elementary school students about a cafeteria worker who’s a secret crime fighter; and, more recently, “Jedi Academy,” a series about a special school where kids learn, among other things, how to wield light sabers.

Krosoczka, who grew up in Worcester but moved to the Valley about 10 years ago with his wife and children, has shown a particular talent for mixing droll humor with uplifting themes that speak to the real issues children face: worries about fitting in at school, getting along with siblings, taking the first steps toward independence. But with his newest book, the author explored a more serious story: his own.

In “Hey, Kiddo,” a graphic memoir for young adult readers, Krosoczka chronicles his life as a boy and teenager. It’s a tale with plenty of sadness. His mother, Leslie, was a heroin addict who spent years in and out of jail and halfway houses, and Krosoczka was mostly raised by his grandparents, Joe and Shirley. They were loving people but didn’t share his mother’s story with him until he was in fourth grade; they rarely discussed the subject with him after that revelation, either.

Krosoczka didn’t meet his father, Richard Hennessy, until he was in his teens, and growing up with all this uncertainty and sense of loss often made him confused, angry or depressed. But Krosoczka, who’s now 40, tells the story through the lens of his older self, bringing a sense of compassion and warmth to “Hey, Kiddo” that makes for a heartfelt read.

The critics have noticed. “Hey, Kiddo” has received excellent reviews and been long-listed for a National Book Award for young people’s literature, and Krosoczka was recently featured in the New York Times. But he was profiled in Hampshire Life first. (Sorry, NYT.)

He’ll be interviewed on NPR on “Fresh Air” later this month. His success is a great reminder of the wealth of artistic talent in our area — one of the things that makes living here so appealing.

* * *

Another year, another MacArthur Fellowship “genius grant” recipient from the Valley. Northampton resident Kelly Link, a fiction writer and co-owner of Small Beer Press, let her Twitter followers know she had received the grant by saying, “this is a thing that happened.”

She joins Amherst’s Annie Baker, a Pulitzer-Prize-winning playwright who received the same award last year.

The grant, given to those who exhibit “exceptional creativity” according to the MacArthur Foundation, was well earned by Link. Her fiction, which draws from science fiction, fantasy, horror and what Link describes as “the weird,” has been celebrated and featured in Best American Short Stories. She was also a recent finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

But while her work includes elements of the fantastic, in the real world, Link is focused on practical ways to promote the work she and her husband and business partner publish with Small Beer Press.

Among those titles are “Alien Virus Love Disaster” and “Half-Witch,” writing Link feels fall between literary work and genres like fantasy and science fiction.

Her own work includes “Stranger Things Happen,” “Magic for Beginners,” and “Pretty Monsters.” She says she is working on a new novel.

We congratulate Link on winning the award and are proud she calls the Valley home.

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