Curtis Notes from Christopher Paul Curtis‘ Keynote
These are partial notes, as I was taking lots of pictures at the beginning of the session. Curtis shared some stories about his youth and talked about how some younsters get the “Scarlett B” on their forehead and how he didn’t have one. One story that he shared was when his parents bought a set of encyclopedias and that his sister would read from them to him.
He then went on to discuss how he liked reading as a child, but he didn’t like fiction. He would spend time reading Newsweek, Time, and Mad, among others. SRA brought about some great memories, including attaining the level of “plaid.” He couldn’t find a book that “touched him” as a child because there were no books for, by, or about him — from an African-American perspective. For the level of a book being “touching,” there has to be something about you in the book. Many of the books that he read, didn’t give him the “I know where you are coming from” feeling.
Today, he knows that his books, Jacqueline Woodson’s, and Walter Dean Myers’ offer something to a young child who will know the wonder of reading well before he did. Perhaps some time in the future, an African-American can reference one of these books when asked, “What book touched you as a child.”
He talked about himself as a writer and referened his parents, both of them avid readers. His mother is 82 and still “knocks off one book a night and two packs of cigarettes.” His mother was protective, and he shared a story about how trick-ot-treating was off limits in Flint during his youth. Instead, she would go to different rooms in the house and they would go door-to-door. By the kitchen, the thrill was gone. (He told the story better than I am typing it, of course!).
What makes me work as a writer? In the Watsons Go to Birmingham, he talks about how he modeled Byron off of himself as a young man. He talked about a scene in the book between the son and the mother that verges on child abuse and reflected on how that fits in only because it is contextual and related to the spirit of the times. (NOTE: I find that this makes for an interesting point, given the current issue with censorship in Howell.)
As a writer, you are a powerful person. You can speed things up. You can slow things down. You can also use your imagination. Right now, he is working on what is currently his favorite book. It is called Elijah of Buxton. This is a place in Canada, a site of the Underground Railroad. This was a utopia for the excaped slaves. He adopts the persona of a young boy concerned with his place in the community.
From there, he read from his upcoming book, much to the enjoyment of the audience.