'Beautiful Boy' author to speak in Ipswich, share son's story of addiction

David Sheff

IPSWICH — A powerful human activity is the ability to share each other's stories, says Patty DiTullio, director of Ipswich Public Library. 

As part of the library’s annual community reading program “Ipswich Reads One Book,” award-winning author and journalist David Sheff will be the keynote speaker Thursday evening at Ipswich High School. He'll discuss his book, “Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction.”

The New York Times best-seller was the featured reading selection for a monthlong series of events in town to increase awareness and reduce the stigma of substance use disorder.

In “Beautiful Boy,” Sheff details his teen son’s struggle with drug addiction and recovery. Released in 2008, the book was adapted into a movie last year starring Steve Carell and Timothée Chalamet.

A Boston native, Sheff said Massachusetts has been hit incredibly hard by drug overdoses and deaths. “I truly believe it’s the most important issue we’re facing in our country,” said the author, who advocates for the prevention and treatment of addiction. “My whole goal is to have these conversations in communities."

Sheff said his son, Nic, now 37, has been sober for nine years.

“There was a time when I didn’t think he’d even make it to 20,” Sheff said.

For those struggling with addiction or families afflicted with drug problems, Sheff said: “Don’t give up; get support and advice.”

A community effort

DiTullio said the goal of “Ipswich Reads One Book” was to raise awareness of substance use disorder, provide people with an opportunity to share their experiences, and have a place to discuss difficult topics together.

“People were concerned about this crisis in our community,” she said. “The more we can have open conversations, the better the chances are to help people who are struggling.”

DiTullio, who has a 19-year-old son, said parts of “Beautiful Boy” resonated with her. She recalled a scene when the author stopped trying to provide his son with the same solutions and eventually said no to him. “It’s an incredibly powerful story,” she said. “Unfortunately, it’s not an uncommon story.”

Ipswich Public Library collaborated with the police department, school system, Ipswich Family YMCA and Ipswich Aware, a local organization that works to educate and spread awareness of substance use disorder.

Brian Blake, superintendent of Ipswich Public Schools, said he worked with the library to screen the “Beautiful Boy” movie and host a number of panel discussions, which provided parents with strategies they can use to talk to their children about addiction.

“We’re a tight-knit community,” he said. “We saw a need and an opportunity to help.”

Sheff will speak at Ipswich High School Performing Arts Center, 134 High St., on Thursday, Nov. 7 at 7 p.m. A book signing will follow. The event is free and open to the public. Seating is limited. Visit ipswichlibrary.org for more information. Copies of “Beautiful Boy” will be available for purchase.

Staff writer Alyse Diamantides can be reached at 978-338-2660 or adiamantides@salemnews.com.

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