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Innocence, Ignorance, and Experience: Quad City Arts “Super Author” Chris Crutcher Discusses His Controversial Young-Adult Literature PDF Print E-mail
News/Features - Literature
Written by Mike Schulz   
Wednesday, 08 April 2009 06:00

Chris CrutcherChris Crutcher, the author of more than a dozen books and short stories featuring teenage protagonists, has earned a bevy of awards and accolades over his 26-year writing career, with eight of his works named "Best Books for Young Adults" by the American Library Association, and Teen Book Review hailing 2007's Deadline as "a brilliant, well-written, thought-provoking, and, to put it simply, truly amazing novel."

So why do so many people seem so angry at him?

On April 14 and 15, the writer will participate in Quad City Arts' biennial "Super Author" program, sharing his young-adult-lit experiences in a series of public lectures, workshops, readings, and discussions. Yet in addition to being an author, the Spokane, Washington-based Crutcher also serves as a therapist for children and families, which might help explain why his published works engender such debate: They deal with serious issues, and frequently discomforting issues, that Crutcher himself has addressed as a therapist.

In the author's 1983 debut novel, Running Loose, a high-school football star must contend with a racist coach and the unexpected death of his girlfriend. 1993's Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes features a classroom discussion on abortion and a title character who, at age three, was violently abused by her father. The protagonist in "A Brief Moment in the Life of Angus Bethune" - a short story published in the 1991 collection Athletic Shorts and adapted into the 1995 movie Angus - is growing up with not one but two sets of gay parents. And other Crutcher works deal either specifically or tangentially, but always forthrightly, with themes that include religious bigotry, parental neglect, and suicide.

Topics such as these, it should go without saying, have netted the author more than his share of controversy, leading to encounters with parents and school groups that have publicly challenged his books, and have even fought to have them banned from library shelves. Fittingly, Crutcher's area speaking engagements find him speaking on the theme of "Controversy, Censorship, & Critical Thought," and during our recent interview, the author admits to embracing his role as provocateur.

"There are groups who believe that if we can keep our children innocent, we can keep them safe," says the 62-year-old author. "But I use a different 'I' word - I think they mean if we can keep them ignorant, we can keep them safe. And no one has ever been able to tell me when innocence turns into ignorance. I mean, I tell people all the time: If you're five or six years old and you believe in Santa Claus, you're cute; if you're 14 and you believe in Santa Claus, you're gonna get a bloody nose."