Don’t Write Alone | Interviews

Alone Together: An Interview with Kristen Radtke, Author of ‘Seek You: A Journey Through American Loneliness’

As we are released from our homes and can start to have dinner with our friends again, it doesn’t mean that the problem of American loneliness is gone or has even really changed.

Seek You: A Journey Through American LonelinessSeek You

Seek You

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Eliza Harris: In , you’re able to use loneliness as a thread to weave together subjects as disparate as the advent of the laugh track, the controversial experiments of psychologist Harry Harlow, and the emergence of the cuddle industry. What was the process of connecting and organizing these narrative threads?

Muted drawing of a person sitting on stairs in an alley between two buildings. The text reads “But loneliness isn’t necessarily tied to whether you have a partner or a best friend or an aspirationally active social life in which you’re laughing all the time. It’s a variance that rests in the space between the relationships you have and the relationships you want.
Excerpt of ‘Seek You’

EH: How do you define , if you choose to?

EH: What is your process of bringing word and image together? What comes first?

EH: You’ve spoken in past interviews about being relatively new to comics before your memoir . Is there anything you learned about making sequential art in your first book that you wanted to apply to ?

Seek You

Seek You

EH: recounts the way that we tend to reach out to strangers as a reprieve from loneliness even when we don’t expect a response, from calling in song dedications on the radio to posting on social media. I’m curious if you find writing to come from a similar impulse.

EH: In that vein, did you have a specific person or audience in mind when writing this book?

EH: On the subject of social media and loneliness, you write, “I fear that through the act of posting about my life, I’m also fooling myself into believing it reflects what it’s like to live inside it.” Do you ever experience the same worry when writing a personal narrative based on your memories—that you will lose something of your past when you start to retell it?

An aerial drawing of a group of people spread out. The text reads, “From exploitative celebrity news to nosy neighbors to the gossip that sometimes fuels our friendships, people have felt they had a right to others’ stories long before the internet offered a place to do so in such a sprawling, public fashion. This is foundational to storytelling itself. Stories are how we draw ourselves closer to one another, and how we remember, and sometimes how we reshape.”

EH: It’s now hard to talk about the epidemic of loneliness in the country without talking about our current Covid-19 pandemic. How does the timeline of making this book align with the pandemic, and did the pandemic give you a different perspective on loneliness than you had when writing ?

EH: In you write about American loneliness as built out of specific cultural ideologies. Can you talk a bit about the connection you draw between American individualism and loneliness?

Drawing of a young boy in the middle of a lake. The water is red, so it looks like he is wading through fire. In front of him is his own face, larger-than-life, caste in a red shadow and looking serious. The text reads: “Participants in their studies who’d been made to feel left out showed less brain activity in the areas responsible for executive control than those who were not excluded. In a companion study, those who felt isolated were more willing to inflict pain on strangers—even those they knew hadn’t personally wronged them.

EH: The connection you draw between wealth and loneliness in was eye-opening, particularly how “the American dream” of a white picket fence and nuclear family unit ends up creating a culture where we’re separated from our communities.

EH: Is there another subject captivating you right now that you’d like to write about next?

Terrible MenTerrible MenSeek YouSeek YouSeek YouTerrible Men

Drawing of Radtke’s face partially submerged in water. She is drawn in a muted pink and her hair fans around her face. The text reads: “Which is to say: of course I am still lonely.”