Jessica Rose’s moving memoir

Jessica Rose’s moving memoir

The story behind her search for her family

Editor's Letter: Sarah Fulford
Photograph by Christopher Wahl

There was always something mysterious about Jessica Rose. When she became the art director of Toronto Life almost 10 years ago, she had never worked at a magazine before. She had a degree from Emily Carr and she’d done some graphic design, including a stint at the Drake Hotel working on its branding, but her most notable claim to fame was her role in an avant-garde collective called the Movement Movement, for which she organized groups of like-minded volunteers to jog through galleries and museums. It was performance art. Or maybe it was social activism. In any case, it combined two of Jessica’s passions—recreational running and art—and once she decided to do it, there was no stopping her, no matter how strange it seemed to others.

At Toronto Life, Jessica was confident, capable and driven. The first cover she designed for the magazine, in August 2008, won gold at that year’s National Magazine Awards. She was the architect of the magazine’s successful 2010 redesign, and for the duration of her three years here she brought dozens of stories to life with originality and flare.

She had a restless energy. Over many late nights, eating takeout, debating font choices and photo croppings, we became friends and I learned why. She mentioned early on that she was adopted, and though she had a happy childhood with a loving and nurturing family, unanswered questions about her birth parents gnawed at her. She told me she knew, as a result of an early and ultimately unsuccessful attempt to dig up her roots, that she had a glamorous Italian biological grandmother, a movie star maybe. I could see her flipping this information around in her imagination, trying to integrate it into her self-understanding. She regularly attended the Venice Biennale, each time wondering if by some miraculous coincidence she’d find herself sitting in a café across from a blood relative.

Jessica left Toronto Life to work in the U.K. and got a job at the Sunday Times Magazine. She did a master’s of fine arts at Goldsmiths, became the art director at Tatler and is now the art director of Wallpaper. As you can read in her moving memoir “Lost and Found,” she never had much luck finding her birth family through official channels, so in 2014 she hired a private detective. She discovered, among other breathtaking surprises, that she and her half-sister were, at one point, close neighbours.

Lost and Found

Her story is full of dramatic twists and turns. It’s also, unintentionally, a case for the relevance of biology—which goes against the grain of much contemporary thinking. We have, as a society, decided that biology is something we can ignore, overcome, supersede. Gender, for example, is not necessarily determined by your biological sex. University social studies departments tell us that our identities are culturally determined, that nurture matters more than nature. But for Jessica, nature mattered.

Ontario’s adoption regulations have evolved since the 1970s, when Jessica was born. As the shame and stigma associated with adoption have waned, our policies have become more open, allowing for more transparency, with more options for birth parents and their children to reconnect.

Of course, not all people who are adopted want to meet their biological relations. But Jessica discovered something important when she found out where she came from—however messy and complicated the process proved to be.

Sarah Fulford is the editor of Toronto Life. She can be found on Twitter @sarah_fulford.