Will Success Spoil
B'klyn boy wrote the book on HS angst
— now it's a
By CELIA McGEE
Daily News Feature Writer
s senior year in high school, Ned Vizzini messed up his
college application essay, played Jesus in the Easter play at his
mother's church, went to a Hooters, finally got a girlfriend — and
was still a tall, skinny nerd.
That was after the turnstile-jumping bust junior year, running a
marathon in sandals sophomore year and perfecting the subway commute
from Park Slope to Stuyvesant High School in lower Manhattan when he
was a freshman.
So senior year was better, but not much.
Way back then, he had no idea that in 2002, the film rights to
his first book would get picked up by producer Jane Startz and
High school was three years ago.
Ned Vizzini is 20.
"These contracts, man, they're something. It's all in there —
where my name will appear in the movie, whether I have the right to
be at the premier party," he said.
Startz said she discovered Vizzini's book, "Teen Angst?
Naaah...A Quasi-Autobiography," last year when she walked into her
13-year-old daughter's room "and one of her friends was reading a
chapter aloud." It had become a huge cult hit after Ned came to
their school to talk. "It's insightful and real — a teenage male
version of 'Bridget Jones's Diary' or a latter-day 'Catcher in the
Rye,' though not as cynical."
Those school speaking gigs are his favorite, Vizzini said between
bites of fried egg, toast and bacon at a coffee shop near his
Brooklyn apartment (he can walk to his parents'). "Kids tell me, 'I
hate reading, but your book is really funny.'"
He has made the opportunity to book such engagements available on
his Web site (nedvizzini.com), along with a
press kit, pictures ("A girl once told me I looked like Freddie
Prinze Jr., who gets reviled a lot — cut the guy some slack"), a
bunch of his other writing and his résumé, which includes his
grade-point average at Stuyvesant (97.5) and at Hunter College
(3.939 [note, it's now 3.907 due to my stupid religion class --ned]), where he's now a junior majoring in computer science.
"What I love about Hunter is that it's not about being in college
full-time. You take your classes, then there are the other things
you do with your life. Here's my rant on brand-name colleges: the
scenery is nice, but they're basically parentally funded drinking
Hunter accepted him as a sophomore tuition-free (his rejections
by Harvard and Yale culminate one of book's funnier parts). He
writes. He trades stocks online. He plays in a rock band. He also
works as a Web designer, counting among his clients his parents'
business, Edison Price Lighting, a Long Island City manufacturer of
high-end architectural lighting.
He is in the business of manufacturing Ned Vizzini.
"Teen Angst" is based on a series of columns he started doing in
high school for New York Press, the freebie he chose to submit to
because "they put a box outside Stuyvesant. I really liked the
articles, and I decided I wanted to write like that. It was like
when I was a little kid and loved video games, so I designed them."
Now he's contributing a weekly out-and-about column there called
"Since When." It gets him into clubs, and helps him meet girls. He's
getting ready to interview Charles (Hungry) Hardy, who just defended
his title as international matzo-ball-eating champion. "I'm so
psyched to interview him," Vizzini said. "It's the hot-dog-eating
contests that usually get all the attention."
He often waxes indignant on behalf of the underdog like that. He
also writes nice things about his high-school buds (they get
pseudonyms in the book), like "Ike...a big buff Mayan dude — he was
born in Central America, where, I learned, the Mayans were conquered
by the Spanish in 1519, but, he swears he has full-on Mayan warrior
blood in him."
He has less warm feelings about the teenagers he calls "vile
creatures who grasp and exploit in the name of popularity." Those he
met mostly at summer camp. When his original essay on the subject
ran in New York Press, he forgot to change the camp's name. "A lot
of people got in trouble, because I wrote about drugs and things. I
felt bad." He can't say that his parents, who come across as lovable
goofballs in the book, or his siblings "can see me writing another
But he's not sorry about telling what he considers the truth
"Boredom. That's what most of high school is, and that's really
traumatic." he said. "You think it's going to be like 'American Pie'
or 'Saved by the Bell,' with all these beautiful women and really
fun things happening, and instead it's full of people with pimples,
and work all the time. People blame TV and movies for school
shootings, because they supposedly desensitize kids to violence. I
think they happen because kids get such a warped view of what high
school is going to be like. Then they get there."