New York Times best-selling author Koren Zailckas spoke to a packed Alumni Hall about her 2005 memoir, “Smashed: Story of a Drunken Girlhood,” an account of her years of alcoholism from age 14 to age 23.
JoLynn Hamilton, the assistant director of Residential Life, introduced the 26-year-old Zailckas, who shares an alma mater in Syracuse University with Hamilton. Someone in the audience shouted: “Are you trying to tell us something?” and received a few laughs.
Zailckas was hardly the timid and alcohol-dependent girl portrayed in her writing. The bubbly, five-foot woman “and a buck in change” may be small, but she opened the lecture on Wednesday by telling the full crowd she has a big heart.
She tried to shed light on some of the reasons alcohol is often abused, particularly by women. “I wrote ‘Smashed’ because I didn’t agree with what experts and sociologists were saying. They talk about women wanting to feel ‘liberated’ and ‘bursting with girl-power’ and I didn’t agree. . I thought it was a little bit nuts,” she said. She did not accept the theory that women were competing with men. “I wanted to give the young, college woman’s perspective.”
She explained her reasons for drinking: “I was socially awkward and shy and didn’t know what to do. Bacardi was the answer.” It was her lack of self-confidence that spawned her obsession with getting drunk, she said. Zailckas believes it is the same for many young women.
In a slide presentation, Zailckas drew a parallel between an increase in women’s alcohol consumption since the 1990s with a change in the advertising of alcoholic drinks. Similar to her memoir, Zailckas provided statistics along with slides depicting beer and liquor advertisements. She admitted to taping specific advertisements in her high school locker.
Zailckas also read a chapter of ‘Smashed’ theatrically as if it were someone else’s story.
In the book, she described a sorority formal she attended in Canada. “I am united with strangers solely by my interest in getting high, talking about getting high and doing everything I can to maintain that high,” she read. “Of course, Coors isn’t crank or coke or crack. And Heineken isn’t heroin. And vodka isn’t Valium. And nothing that’s mixed with cranberry juice will score you respect with the folks who cop drugs in the public bathroom in Tompkins Square Park.”
The former cheerleader in her emerged with a peppy and surprised “Thank you!” to the unexpected acclamation she was awarded after closing the book. In a question-and-answer period, Zailckas made the distinction between alcohol abuse and alcohol addiction. “I make my own definition for the two.” She said there is a difference between binging and having no feelings of addiction, and drinking alone every day.