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Innocence, Ignorance, and Experience: Quad City Arts “Super Author” Chris Crutcher Discusses His Controversial Young-Adult Literature - Page 4 PDF Print E-mail
News/Features - Literature
Written by Mike Schulz   
Wednesday, 08 April 2009 06:00
I Thought It Was About Me

Crutcher's acceptance of his works' controversial nature, however, doesn't keep them on public bookshelves, and the author has attended numerous book-banning rallies over the years at which he's been called upon to defend both his books and those of fellow writers.

"Even in conservative communities, there really aren't that many people who would ban a book," he says. "They do understand freedom. And they understand that they need to have control over their own families and their own immediate arena, and that other people have to have control over theirs.

"But then there will be a group," he continues, "and it's usually a fundamental-Christian group, that will start with a complaint from a parent with a kid in school or whatever, and then it moves out to the church. And if there's a picket line somewhere or a school-board meeting, those folks will be there. They're very vocal, and they believe what they believe, and they come with fire."

Yet through his years of defending young-adult literature against threatened banning, Crutcher has discovered that no arguments made by authors, teachers, or librarians prove nearly as effective as those made by students. "If it's a school-board meeting, or some formal meeting where they're discussing the book, the best antidote to it [banning] is those kids who line up at the microphone to tell the school board why they like the book. What the book did for them.

"I saw a kid defend Fallen Angels, Walter Dean Myers' story of a young kid who goes to Vietnam right after high school. The kid got up there and he said, 'I'm a straight-A student. I could go to any university I want. But I'm going into the service, and in a year, I could be in the same place that Walter Dean Myers' character is, only it'll be sand instead of a jungle. But I'm a pretty good writer, so if I come back here and write what I know, do you mean you guys would ban me?' And it was done.

"You know," Crutcher continues, "A book is sometimes even better than it had a right to be because of the history the reader brings to it. I mean, I've got my philosophy, others have their philosophy, and off we go. But if you get kids up there saying, 'I read this book and I thought it was about me,' that's something that most school boards won't take on."

And Crutcher believes that such personal involvement might begin occurring with even greater frequency, given the staggering popularity - and not just among teens - of recent books and series directed at the youth-lit market.

"My agent was telling me the other day that right now the big paydays are coming in young-adult literature," says Crutcher, "and not just for the [J.K.] Rowlings and [Stephenie] Meyers. There are just a lot more people reading books about kids," which the author finds unsurprising considering the genre's current wealth of talent.

"I do think that, overall, the quality of writing that you see in young-adult literature right now is matchless," he says. "Walter D. Myers. Christopher Paul Curtis. Laurie Halse Anderson is just putting out some great stuff. God, I read a book by Elizabeth Scott not too long ago that is probably the edgiest book I've ever read of any kind. It's called Living Dead Girl, and it's a story about a girl who was kidnapped by a pedophile when she was eight, and now she's 15. It's not a book you can't put down; it's one you keep putting down, but then you keep picking it back up.

"Alex Sánchez is another," Crutcher continues. "And there's John Green. And Chris Lynch is another who has this huge range. I mean, there are a lot of really, really fine writers out there."

Plus, of course, there's Rowling and Meyer, and Daniel Handler, too. "Books like Harry Potter and the Twilight series and Lemony Snicket," says Crutcher, "one of the things they've done is they've made it cool to carry a book. When I started writing young-adult literature, it really was the red-headed stepchild of real literature.

"And it still is, to some degree," he adds with a laugh, "but that mostly comes from people who write adult literature."

The author realizes, though, that no matter their acclaim and popularity, he and fellow young-adult-literature writers will likely continue to fight against censorship, which Crutcher believes "comes from a place of fear, but to people's credit, it also comes from a place of protection.

"We say a stupid thing as adults," he continues, "and we say it all the time: 'I don't want you to make the mistakes I made.' What people forget is that what we have in common with teenagers is that we're always as old as we've ever been; we have what we don't know ahead of us, and what we do know behind us.

"The only real teacher is experience. And the only way you can make words experience is to get them into the imagination. Otherwise it's just a lecture."

On Tuesday, April 14, author Chris Crutcher will appear at the Friendly House of the Quad Cities at noon, the Moline Public Library at 4 p.m., and the Bettendorf Public Library at 7 p.m.

On Wednesday, April 15, Crutcher will appear at the Midwest Writing Center at noon, the Davenport Public Library Fairmount Branch at 4 p.m., and the River Music Experience at 7 p.m.

For more information on Crutcher, visit For a schedule of the author's local appearances and information on Quad City Arts' "Super Author" program, visit

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