New York City author Ned Vizzini made his first visit to Morenci in November 2002 after making arrangements with middle school teacher Sally Kruger [her story follows].
He instantly became fascinated with small-town America, marveling at the tiny downtown and the neighborhoods. He was so taken with Morenci that he stopped by for a visit when he was traveling home from Chicago, and he more speaking engagements followed.
On his first visit, he stood in front of Morenci’s eighth grade students, shifting from foot to foot, always in motion, grabbing his chin, throwing a hand into the air, then returning to his chin.
He spoke about his book, “Teen Angst,” that he wrote at the age of 17, a tale that chronicled his experiences growing up in the Big City.
“It’s just a book of stupid, funny stuff that happened to me in high school,” he told the kids, many of whom recognized the same stupid stuff in their own adolescent lives.
He connected with many members of his young audience because he spent his time with the nerds, the kooks, the gamers and a host of other outcasts. That’s where his allegiance lay.
“A lot of people talk about how the moral fabric of America is crumbling,” he said. “I don’t worry about that. I worry about the kids who aren’t in on the crumbling.”
Ned Vizzini suffered from depression for many years and he took his own life last week. Following are some recollections from people who encountered the author in Morenci.
This is how I choose to remember Ned. A little over 12 years ago I read his first book, “Teen Angst,” described as a quasi-autobiography about his years in middle school and high school. After finishing the book, I contacted him at the e-mail address conveniently listed at the end of the book. He immediately answered my email and offered to visit with my students. I was excited and remember exchanging e-mails without mentioning where Morenci was located because I figured that information would be a deal breaker.
Imagine my surprise when I finally revealed where he would have to come for a visit, and he excitedly agreed to come. Another surprise was the nominal fee he was willing to charge and added he didn’t require travel or lodging expenses like most authors. Plans were made and Ned arrived.
I remember being pretty nervous since he was our first visiting author, and I hoped everyone would be as impressed as I was with his talent. A 21-year-old Ned with shirt partially untucked and hair tousled appeared. I extended my hand, but he stepped forward and gave me an enthusiastic hug and launched into a lengthy list of all the amazing things he had seen in his drive around Morenci. This “nerdy” young man had fallen in love with our tiny town.
During his first visit, Ned earned a loyal following of Morenci teens. His humor and direct talk held the kids’ attention and let them know it was OK to be something other than a sports star or a popular kid. What followed was a great friendship that included three more visits to Morenci, and recently, a Skype visit with Children’s Lit students at Siena Heights University.
I will always cherish two memories from Ned’s visits to Morenci. During his first visit, he spent the night in the apartment above the Observer. He loved it! On his third visit to town he stayed at the Hardy’s Bed and Breakfast. He appreciated Mrs. Hardy’s kindness and generosity. After his visit, we shipped a box of books to NYC for him to sign and return, and when Mrs. Hardy gave me a pair of black socks he had mistakenly left behind, I included them in the box. The funny thing was when he returned the signed books, the socks were also in the box with a note that said, “Sorry, not mine.”
As I remember the often preoccupied, nervous Ned whose mind and conversation sometimes bounced all over, I remember those socks and think, “I bet they were his.”
I'm sorry to hear about Ned's unfortunate ending of life. In all the years of Ned visiting Morenci, I actually only met him once. Here's the story….
For some reason or another, Ned had taken a late night/early morning flight, was picked up in Detroit (I believe) by Sally and Kelley, and was spending some sleep time on the futon in our back room. My mom was at the library, working on the New York event, so I was instructed to go to the house, pick Ned up, and bring him to the library for his part of the event.
When I entered the house, I spotted Ned, showered and nicely dressed in a suit, standing in the back room. Upon further examination, however, I noticed Ned (still unaware of my presence in the house) was holding our kitten, Revvie, and taking photos of the two of them. (Yes, Ned was taking "selfies" with our cat!)
With the clock ticking, I panicked a bit, grabbed the nearest lint roller, and entered the room with an oh-so-awkward, "Um, hi, need a lint roller?" (no need for introductions!) Ned dropped the cat, looked down at his clothes, and with a look of confusion spun in a slow circle saying, "I don't know, do I?"
After spotting absolutely no cat hair on his suit, I confirmed that Ned did not, in fact, need a lint roller and we were on our way.
I remember regretting not snapping my own photo with Ned, or of Ned and my cat, but hoping to one day randomly discover the photo of Ned and Revvie.
I was so glad, so honored, so inspired, to meet Ned Vizzini when he came to Morenci. I was truly moved by his story of strength, struggle and vulnerability. His story (his life) was so beautiful and authentic, but some of his chapters were so fragile. Mental illness and depression plays tricks on your mind. It magnifies the pain. It discounts the good. It keeps you alone and isolated, even in a room full of people. He told us that. He was the man in the arena, fighting for his life sometimes. Battling himself. It was a lethal fight. His invisible wounds were mortal.
When he came here, we saw his talent, his strength, his gifts. When he was with us, his story seemed to have a happy ending. But the last chapter had not been written. He got sick again, for the last time, and then when he cooperated with his illness, his deep, deep pain, ended his life. As it ended the lives of other people we have known. My grandmother's life ended this way, too.
When you are depressed, suicide makes sense. Depressed thinking makes death seem like a solution. But suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Whatever he was going through, it might have been temporary. It might have been an episode. It gets better. Every problem does have a solution. Even depression.
As a psychiatric social worker, I have had the honor and the privilege of working with and learning from people battling depression. I have learned what it's like to be them. What they think about. I have listened to their stories of despair and then hope. How they can notice their thoughts and feelings changing as they recover. The lights come back on.
Ned told us his story of despair and hope in his words and his books. Sadly, mental illness is sometimes chronic. It comes back. But it is also treatable. There is help. There are meds that will help you get your head right, decrease the intensity of the thoughts and feelings, and help you see solutions to the problems that seem so big and intolerable. There are people who will encourage you. Know you. Cheer for you. Listen to you. Walk this walk with you.
Ned's loss of life is our loss, too, but maybe there is a lesson for us, in his final chapter.
I met Ned several years ago in Morenci. Had no idea who he was, but he was great, had a room full if kids hanging onto his every last word. As the months went by we penned each other a few letters, which turned to e-mailing and other forms of communication. As our friendship grew he attended my NYC event, Teen Author Carnival, and supported every crazy idea I shared with him.
I've spent most of my late teens meeting authors of every background. Most of them pose for a photo and forget my name. That wasn't the case with Ned. He'd go out of his way in his letters to bring up past Twitter conversations we had a few weeks before, which helped me feel like he was really listening.
He'd reach out to me and always request I put a set of eyes to his newest novel. Not because he wanted a review, he just simply wanted my input. To this day I've only read one Ned Vizzini novel, and am halfway through his newest novel, "House of Secrets."
I was hesitant to talk about Ned's death with anyone, but it's important to say, my friend who wrote a book about a suicidal teen, committed suicide. Depression is a real struggle, one in every four adults suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year. If you every feel the need to harm yourself, please reach out to the National Suicide Hotline, 1-800-SUICIDE.
Ned went out if his way to make everyone feel valued. He was a great man. Amazing friend. And I'll miss him with everything in my heart.
“I like how you don’t hide your problems like everyone else, and I don’t have to hide mine when I’m around you.”
- It's Kind of A Funny Story
I remember sitting in the library of the old middle school when Ned Vizzini came to Morenci. I was 13 and confused as to why a stranger from New York City was in my school. Yet as he shared stories from his life, and as I listened to him tell his humorous, embarrassing and sincere experiences, I found myself identifying with this stranger. His words resonated with me, and I began to feel as if I knew this man who I met only hours ago.
Ned Vizzini showed me how human experiences can be shared through words, and he showed me that I wasn’t the only one who felt like an awkward, unsure kid. Thank you for what you’ve taught me, Ned. You’ll be missed.
Many lives in this small community were influenced by this engaging, creative and thoughtful young man.
That literally just took me by surprise. I was looking forward to his return to Morenci.
So sad to hear that Ned Vizzini took his own life yesterday. I remember going with Sally at 3:00 am to Detroit to pick him up the last time he was in Morenci. I enjoyed getting to know him a bit and I know my kids enjoyed his books.
I heard Ned speak several times and was always blown away by his charisma, sense of humor and guts. He had a contagious personality that made you want to know him personally and proud that somehow he had adopted our little town--or vice versa. His talent, honesty, and spirit will be missed.
We’ve had quite a few authors at Stair Public Library over the years, but Ned Vizzini was surely the most memorable...and, at three visits, most frequent. Ned was refreshing; he spoke his mind, discussing ideas and issues without his ego getting involved. His candor was so welcome; he said whatever he was thinking, not to shock, but to make a point or bring up issues to discuss.
He genuinely cared about others and never let fame get to his head. In his visits, we watched him develop from the slightly disheveled college student to the suit-wearing adult, but his essence remained the same: kind, considerate, thoughtful, honest, genuine, sincere. He was such an authentic human being—and funny. Always funny.
I always meant to write his mother and tell her what a great job she did raising him and I was so happy for him when he became a father. In an e-mail last April, I asked about his son and commented about parenting.
“Is parenthood not the best, most amazing thing and also the craziest, most frightening leap of faith? Stay tuned...grandparenting is a million times more delightful,” I wrote
“Yes, being a parent is fantastic,” he replied. “I'm way far away from being a grandparent—I can't even imagine it! Our son is named Felix and he's a total joy.”
I can’t imagine a world without Ned—but his spirit lives on in those of us who were touched by him.
Ned was a very accessible author, in both his writing and his appearances. His honest and forthright writing clicked instantly with me as a teen. In person he was very much the same, open and easy to approach. I had the pleasure of discussing lizards and science class with him, as well as his writing and what it was like to travel and speak. I feel honored to have spent time with such a great author and kind person. I know the students of our town who have seen him speak and read his works mourn his loss.
I remember when Ned first came and talked to us in the old middle school. I remember wondering what kind of person he would be, considering he was a published author and I had this image of famous people. I got to listen to him talk many times and he never seemed to change. He had a way of making you feel comfortable. It wasn't like you were listening to a lecture or a presentation, but that you were just sitting around listening to a friend tell a story.
Man, I feel like I've known the guy forever now just because that first time we saw him was in the old middle school. All I can say, which is a great testament to his character, is that a few months ago, I reached out to him and said that I was a student from Morenci and a past VolunTeen, and even though he didn't remember me directly, he was willing to give me an interview. It was kind because I understand people's time is precious, but he was ready to do a phone, Skype, or e-mail interview, it was my choice. He was there to help me out when I tried to contact him, and he handled the situation greatly.
Along with my shelf of books, I will have memories of the quirky guy who took time to help me out with my teen angst.
James Wright II
There's far too much to say about Ned in one little blurb. He was more than just another author/writer I admired—he was a friend. I first met Ned back in middle school when he came by to promote his first book, a collection of essays called "Teen Angst? Nahh...."
But, I didn't really get to know Ned until after his second visit to Morenci. I had read his first book twice, and had a small list of follow-up questions. I didn't want to be the annoying kid that had a thousand questions when he did his Q&A, so I waited until after and asked if he had an e-mail address I could send my questions to.
E-mailing Ned throughout the years slowly went from me being a fan with a thousand questions about his books to asking, "Hey, me again. How's life out your way?" I got to know him about as well as you can for someone you've only met in person four times. But in this digital age, I'd say you get to know someone very well that way. Whenever I had problem, Ned always listened. He didn't just skim through my e-mails and just shoot off a quick message so he could say he replied. He would ask follow-up questions, send me an e-mail later to check up on how whatever problem I was dealing with turned out. I think that's what made Ned so great—the way he genuinely cared about the well-being of people, even someone he only met briefly a few times like me.
Felix, if you ever read this, know that you had one of the best people in the world as your dad and we all miss him very much.