Good Reads: Young adult author Chris Crutcher to visit Incline
October 5, 2007
” Maya Angelou, quoting a lyric by Paul Laurence Dunbar
Nationally acclaimed young adult writer and therapist, Chris Crutcher, will be at the Incline Village Library to discuss censorship and intellectual freedom in the United States, as well as answer questions about writing young adult fiction. Be there. You will be sorry if you miss this. Particularly all you middle school and high school students. This is a terrific way to celebrate the last day of 2007’s Banned Book Week and we are extremely fortunate to have him here, thanks to the National Endowment for the Art grant for the Northern Nevada Reads Project.
Here is just a little summary of Chris Crutcher’s accomplishments. Nine of Crutcher”s young adult novels, and his collection of short stories, “Athletic Shorts” were selected as ALA (American Library Association) Best Books for Young Adults. Four of his books have appeared on “Booklist’s Best 100 Books of the 20th Century.” In 2000, he was awarded the American Library Association’s Margaret A. Edwards Award, honoring his lifetime contribution in writing for teens. His novel “Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes” is currently being adapted as a major motion picture by Riverrock Entertainment, as are “Whale Talk,” “The Crazy Horse Electric Game,” and “The Sledding Hill.” In 2004 “The Writer” Magazine awarded him the “Writers who make a Difference” award.
This year, in honor of Banned Book Week Sept. 29 to Oct. 6, the American Booksellers Association and the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression have named their top 10 best Banned Books of 2007 and Crutcher’s novel “Whale Talk” was included. He has also received the National Intellectual Freedom Award from the National Council of Teachers of English. He was given an award in 2005 from the National Coalition Against Censorship “for his courageous novels for young adults and his outspoken defense of free speech,” and has been honored twice by the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents. And … all of Chris Crutcher’s books have been challenged and/or banned at one time or another.
Chris Crutcher was born in 1946 in Dayton, Ohio and grew up in Cascade, Idaho, a very small logging community north of Boise. His dad was an Air Force pilot and his mother, a homemaker. Growing up in the rural northwest definitely influenced his fiction. He claims “Everyone was into sports because there was not much else to do,” and all of his books have an athletic component. But it is “human struggle and triumph” that is at the heart of his work. And he draws upon his own experiences having been a teacher, director of an alternative school, and currently a therapist and child protection advocate.
He has been writing for over 20 years, and has gained a reputation for writing fiction with a factual base, real-life stories that ring true for readers. Much of what he has seen finds it way into his works ” abandonment, rape, incest, torture, suicide and even murder. His take on the truth can be “unyielding and controversial.” In an interview, he explains, “… In therapy and in writing, I’m trying in every way I know how to let people know they are responsible for everything they do. In the term ‘responsibility’ the root word is ‘response.’ You can’t control everything that happens to you, but you can control your responses. Those responses dictate whether you’re in control, or someone else is.”
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According to Crutcher, once we take control, success is within reach. “When it’s all done, you’re either whole or you’re not because of what YOU did about it. That’s the truth. And all my books reflect that. Kids are asking, ‘Who will listen to me? Who will tell me the truth?’ It’s a tall order, but I do my best not to tell a lie. When kids ask real questions, I’ll go for real answers—every single time.”
Many of his characters are ‘outsiders’ in the school pecking order but Crutcher knows he cannot appeal to only people who are on the outside. There is a testament to how ‘outside’ every adolescent actually feels. He speaks of Molly Ringwald in “The Breakfast Club” and claims she played it perfectly. Her character was popular, but she was hurting too. He states he too was like that in high school.
He was popular but he felt he was different. “Everybody feels it. It’s just unfortunate that many teachers can’t seem to remember.”
Teachers, as well as parents, need to show respect. “No kid will respect me if I don’t respect him or her first. …Respect is not about fear. It’s about allowing them (kids) to be who they are. We, adults, should be in a better developmental position to know what respect is and not to confuse it with fear; go that distance in the classroom.” In all his books there are always a few adult advocates who demonstrate that respect and honesty for Crutcher believes that kids look to adults for acceptance, connection, and second, third and even fourth chances.
He feels that we could make literature a more powerful tool in reaching out to young readers if we were more willing to talk about the stories. “That’s one reason I get censored. My work makes people in a position to talk about the stories uncomfortable, because they shed light on difficult problems.” He goes on to elaborate that “In high school, particularly, the reading list is chosen by way of “the classics.” This screws up “what literature is supposed to be about. We need to remember, when “the classics” were written, the people writing them didn’t know they were classics. They were just trying to tell a story and connect with a reader.
They happened to tap into something that turns a book into a classic ” endurance.”
“When we censor these stories, we censor the kids themselves. Imagine falling in love with a book because somehow it mirrors your life, and gives meaning to it, and may even offer solutions to your personal situation, only to have those in power over you censor it because it was offensive. All but the most hard-nosed of us might think our lives were offensive.”
“I think people who believe we can protect our children by keeping them ignorant of hard times and the language those times are told in, don’t realize that by showing our fear of issues and language that are ‘everyday’ to our children, we take ourselves off that short list of people to turn to in a real crisis.”
“…What I am going to do, as a writer, is make the best connection I can make with my characters. If I do that well, the kid will take it from there. It is not my job to interpret once it is done. I trust my readers to do that for themselves.”
Chris Crutcher is known as an outstanding young adult writer, but the truth be told, he is first and foremost an outstanding writer, period. His books should not just be read by young adults but by all adults for they capture the pulse of today’s youth, and establish a different high school reality from the memory of most of our own. But the feelings they illicit are universal. As expressed by Susannah Sheffer, “His stories are strong testimonials to the power of friendship and the strength of compassion that can exist even in young people, who are so often accused of being preoccupied only with their own needs.” There are no easy, happy-go-lucky endings to these stories but good does prevail in spite of the human complexity and failure to heal quickly.
See you Saturday, and if you have the opportunity, ask a young person or two to accompany you. You both will benefit from the experience.
Saturday Oct. 6 -4:00 – 5:30 p.m. The Chris Crutcher Author Visit has been expanded due to popular demand. Chris Crutcher has seen some of his books banned from school library shelves because of their realistic treatment of violence and abuse in young people’s lives. He has also received dozens of awards and honors for his work. The nationally acclaimed young adult author will discuss censorship and intellectual freedom in the United States and he will also answer questions about writing young adult fiction.
Extra credit voucher bookmarks will be distributed to students attending the event for teachers who wish to honor them.
Local fans of this popular and controversial author of young adult books will have the chance to meet him in person when Crutcher comes to the Incline Village Library as part of Northern Nevada Reads, a project of The Big Read. For more information about the author and a list of his works, please visit http://www.chriscrutcher.com/. The presentation is free and refreshments will be served. Middle School ages through adult are welcome.
Unlimited copies of the audio version of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 are available through the Washoe County Library System website at http://www.washoe.lib.nv.us/. Simply click on the “Download Audio Books” icon and type the book’s title in the search field. Or choose the “Always Available Audio” link on the left of the screen and sort the books by title or author.
Step-by-step instructions give you the information you need to download books onto your computer’s hard drive and then burn CDs or load them onto your MP3 player, if desired. As with other library materials, downloadable audio books check out for three weeks. However, they cannot be returned early or renewed.
On Thursday evening Oct. 11 from 7-9 p.m., come attend a free poetry and book signing by author Denise Duhamel in the Prim library of Sierra Nevada College. The author of many books including “Two by Two,” Queen for a Day,” “Smile” and “Kinky” as well as several chapbooks of poetry, “she is one of the funniest and delightful authors around ” states June Saraceno, English Chair at the College. Don’t miss her!
October 6 Thor Heyerdahl (1914)
October 7 Thomas Keneally (1935)
October 9 Belva Plain (1919)
October 10 Nora Roberts (1950)
October 11 Elmore Leonard (1925)
Adults (fiction): “Street of a Thousand Blossoms” by Gail Tsukiyama
Young Adult (ages 13-17): “Jinx” by Meg Cabot
Juvenile (4th-6thgrade): “Heat” by Mike Lupica.
Children (2nd-3rd grade): “Nothing” by Jon Agee
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