Kristen Radtke

Acclaimed Graphic Memoirist

Readings & Lecture Topics

  • An Evening with Kristen Radtke

“Radtke is, first and foremost, a superhuman of illustration, a grandmaster like Adrian Tomine or Chris Ware. Her photo-based, exquisitely executed drawings appear more realistic and seductive than photographs could ever hope to be.” —New York Times Book Review

“Radtke isn’t an artist who also writes a little or a writer who scrawls but a master of both prose narrative and visual art.” — Kirkus Reviews

Kristen Radke is the author of the graphic memoir, Imagine Wanting Only This (Pantheon, 2017), a breathtaking book which portrays her lifelong fascination with ruins—both the emotional ruin of personal loss and the world’s literal ruins—and with people and places left behind, as she searches out and visits such abandoned places all over the globe. It was chosen as a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Pick, a Junior Library Guild Selection, and an Entertainment Weekly Best Graphic Novel. The Chicago Tribune said, “There is a proud tradition of graphic memoirists—of those dually equipped to wield word and image—to tell the true and deeply considered story of a life. Alison Bechdel, Roz Chast, Riad Sattouf, David Small, Marjane Satrapi, Art Spiegelman and others have done it searingly well. Add now to that list Radtke, who proves herself an equal among equals.”

Imagine Wanting Only This was received to great critical acclaim. Newsweek raved, “Radtke’s memoir is an absolutely stunning look at what it is to recover from grief, and is so haunting you’ll be thinking about it for days after reading it.” The NYTBR called it “Gorgeously eerie….A portrait of a powerful mind grappling with alienation and loneliness.” Almost in reply, The Atlantic wrote: “Her story doesn’t feel resigned to a hard fatalism though, and joy comes in some of its smallest moments, suggesting that the brevity of human time on earth may almost be a liberating thing.”

In 2017, Radtke did on a series for the New Yorker’s “Page Turner” section about urban loneliness. More illustration than text, she presented a series of drawings of people publicly alone in New York, with titles such as “The Loneliness of the Subway Map” and “The Loneliness of the Parking-Lot Phone Call.”

Radke received an MFA from the University of Iowa’s Nonfiction Writing Program. She is the managing editor of Sarabande Books, and the film & video editor of TriQuarterly magazine. She lives and works in Brooklyn.

Kristen Radtke is the author of the graphic nonfiction book Imagine Wanting Only This (Pantheon, 2017). She is the managing editor of Sarabande Books and the film & video editor of TriQuarterly magazine, and has contributed to The New Yorker, an illustrated series on the topic of urban loneliness. Radtke earned her MFA from the University of Iowa’s Nonfiction Writing Program. She lives and works in Brooklyn.


“Cities, ambitions, romances, and bodies come to ruin before our eyes, as Kristen Radke invites us, in her beautifully understated way, to be disturbed, fascinated, and yes, even attracted to that ruin. A remarkable bildungsroman!” –Eula Biss

When Kristen Radke was in college, the sudden death of a beloved uncle and the sight of an abandoned mining town after his funeral marked the beginning moments of a lifelong fascination with ruins and with people and places left behind. Over time, this fascination deepened until it triggered a journey around the world in search of ruined places. In this genre-smashing graphic memoir, she leads us through deserted cities in the American Mid-west, an Icelandic town buried in volcanic ash, islands in the Phillipines, New York City, and the delicate passageways of the human heart. A narrative that is at once historical and personal, Radke’s stunning illustrations and piercing text never shy away from the big questions: why are we here, and what will we leave behind?