by Jen Donovan
Christopher Paul Curtis, award-winning author, will be speaking at the 57th Annual IRA Convention on Wednesday, May 2, as part of the Author Luncheon Speaker Series.
Reading Today Online: You have said that the feeling of being deeply cared about comes earliest and most indelibly from teachers. Why have teachers been such an important part of your life?
Christopher Paul Curtis: I believe the magic of teaching is revealed in the fact that I cannot put my finger on what it is about the student/teacher relationship that so often sparks such a lasting impression, but many of us have felt it. For me these feelings were first discovered in third grade with Miss Henry followed closely by sixth grade with Mr. Alums. I truly felt as though they cared. I felt a strong need to please them, and this wasn't just because I was a needy nerd (which I most definitely was not, regardless of the scuttlebutt). Even the cool kids, the tough kids, the hard to reach kids felt something special about these two teachers. I believe much of this was because children are as sensitive as bloodhounds when it comes to sniffing out an adult who is on their side, and the best of teachers are able to convey this to a large group of children. The best teachers are able to fulfill some need that a student has. For some students it was a need to feel cared for by an adult, for others it's the need to be told good job, for still others it's the need to know at least one adult is willing to listen.
RT: What led you to focus your writing career on younger readers? Do books have a special impact on this audience that makes a difference in their view of the world?
CPC: I never have felt I am a children's writer. A good story can be read by all and when I write I do not aim my books at one particular group. I'm not stupid, I know the books I make are geared to young people, but I also know if I start writing to them it will be reflected in the writing and I will be in trouble. I write to myself and then adjust the writings to be appropriate for wider audiences. I feel very strongly that children who are the ages my books are marketed to are open and susceptible to new ideas. Their minds have not become hide-bound and they can accept things that will make an older person cringe. I'm aware of this and feel a special responsibility. I also feel particularly fortunate to be in the position I'm in, and as I mature as a writer I hope I'm better able to take advantage of this.
RT: The depression and the early civil rights era are the background setting for your books. Is there something about crisis and conflict that animates your artistic vision?
CPC: A good story needs conflict and crisis. I've also been a history buff and can't think of anything more full of conflict, color, and crisis than American history. Examining an event through the eyes of a young person is a blast. It's as simple as that, that's why I love historical fiction.
RT: What's in store for people who come to hear you at the IRA convention?
CPC: At my IRA speech I will be discussing the impact movies have had on me as a writer. Ranging from watching at drive-ins from the back of a 1960 Ford Falcon station wagon through the pictures my father used to take me to try to discourage me from asking to come to the movies with him, I'll walk down memory lane about some old flicks.
This Author Luncheon is sponsored by Random House. Visit www.randomhouse.com/features/christopherpaulcurtis for more information on Christopher Paul Curtis. Author luncheons are ticketed events and require pre-registration and an additional luncheon fee. For more information about the 2012 IRA Annual Convention in Chicago from April 29 to May 2, visit www.iraconvention.org.
Jen Donovan is the Strategic Communications intern at the International Reading Association.
Christopher Paul Curtis Will Be There…Will You?