Curtis, Christopher Paul 1954(?)–
Curtis, Christopher Paul 1954(?)–
Born May 10, c. 1954, in Flint, MI; son of Herman E., Jr. (an auto worker and chiropodist) and Leslie (a lecturer and homemaker) Curtis; married Kaysandra
Sookram (a registered nurse); children: Steven, Cydney. Education: University of Michigan—Flint, B.A. (political science), 1996. Hobbies and other interests: Playing basketball, collecting records.
Home—Windsor, Ontario, Canada.
Writer. Fisher Body Plant, General Motors, Flint, MI, assembly-line worker, 1972-85; assistant to Senator Don Riegle, Lansing, MI; Automatic Data Processing, Allen Park, MI, former warehouse clerk; worked variously as a maintenance man, purchasing clerk, and customer-service representative. Founder, Nobody but Curtis Foundation, Windsor, Ontario, Canada.
Avery Hopwood Prize, University of Michigan—Flint, 1993; Jules Hopwood Prize, University of Michigan—Flint, 1994; Golden Kite Award, Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), Bank Street Child Study Association Children's Book Award, Newbery Honor Book designation, American Library Association (ALA), Coretta Scott King Honor Book, ALA, Notable Children's Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies designation, National Council for the Social Studies/Children's Book Council, and Best 100 Books designation, New York Times, all 1996, all for The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963; Golden Kite Award Honor Book designation, 1999, Newbery Medal, Cor- etta Scott King Award, and Children's Book Award, International Reading Association, all 2000, and Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award, 2001, all for Bud, Not Buddy; Mayor's Award for Excellence in the Arts, City of Windsor, Ontario, Canada, 2001; Christopher Paul Curtis International Children's Author Series established by Flint, MI, and Windsor, Ontario, Canada, public libraries, 2001; NAACP Image Award nomination, Michigan Notable Author Award, Scott O'Dell Historical Fiction Award, Coretta Scott King Award, and Newbery Honor Book designation, all 2008, all for Elijah of Buxton.
The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963 (historical fiction), Delacorte (New York, NY), 1995.
Bud, Not Buddy (historical fiction), Delacorte (New York, NY), 1999.
Bucking the Sarge, Wendy Lamb Books (New York, NY), 2004.
Mr. Chickee's Funny Money, Wendy Lamb Books (New York, NY), 2005.
Mr. Chickee's Messy Mission, Wendy Lamb Books (New York, NY), 2005.
Elijah of Buxton, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2007.
Curtis's works have been translated into ten languages.
Contributor to newspapers and periodicals, including Chicago Tribune, New York Times Book Review, and USA Weekend.
The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963 was adapted for audiobook by Listening Library (New York, NY), 1996, and by Bantam Books-Audio (New York, NY), 2000. Bud, Not Buddy was adapted for audiobook by Listening Library, 2001.
In 2000 Christopher Paul Curtis became the first writer to concurrently win both the Newbery Medal and the Coretta Scott King Award, two of the most prestigious prizes in the field of children's literature. Curtis received these accolades for his second novel, Bud, Not Buddy, a book set during the Great Depression that follows a ten-year-old black orphan from Flint, Michigan, as he searches for the man he thinks is his father. Like Curtis's other novels for middle-grade readers, Bud, Not Buddy is a work of historical fiction that uses actual events as springboards into fictional tales that blend fact with fantasy, seriousness with humor, and significant events in American history with family heritage. Curtis often sets his books in his hometown of Flint, and draws from his own life and that of his family in creating both stories and characters. Although he addresses challenging issues such as racism, poverty, homelessness, hunger, and child abuse, he balances these topics with an upbeat approach that emphases self-respect, the acceptance of life and its challenges, and the healing quality of family love. As an outgrowth of his work as a writer, Curtis founded the Nobody but Curtis Foundation to improve the level of literacy among children in Canada, the United States, and Africa by providing books, computers, and school supplies to young people around the world, and also through scholarship opportunities.
Curtis is praised for creating vivid, believable characters and settings; for portraying the fears of children authentically; for writing appealing stories that blend comedy and pathos; and for making his works both specific and universal through their grounding in the events of the past. Credited for demonstrating how history affects ordinary people, his fiction includes author notes that encourage readers to explore their own family history. Writing in Peacework, Lani Gerson commented of Curtis's body of work that, "told with humor and warmth," his novels "present stories of American history from a point of view long missing in children's literature." Instructor contributor Lillian Forman called Curtis "a great example of a writer who can help children grapple with painful experiences that are part of modern life." His books "deal responsibly and sensitively with such problems as homelessness, racism, sibling rivalry, and the inner turmoil of adolescence," the critic added. "And, without downplaying these problems, they celebrate the warmth and humor of life."
Born in Flint, Michigan, Curtis was one of five children born to Herman and Leslie Curtis. His father was trained as a chiropodist, but he eventually found a job in the automobile industry in order to support his family. Leslie Curtis remained at home until her children were grown, then became a lecturer in black history in the Flint public schools, and through her Curtis was inspired with a love of reading. Crediting his parents as among his greatest influences, Curtis told Martha Davis Beck of the Riverbank Review that they "were very demanding and very concerned that we do well, that we know right from wrong, and that we take care of business."
In addition to being dedicated parents, Henry and Leslie Curtis were active in the civil rights movement and took their children to marches sponsored by the local chapter of the National Association of the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). The family also attended reunions where Christopher heard stories about both his paternal and maternal grandfathers, both of whom were notable in their respective African-American communities. His paternal grandfather, Herman E. Curtis, Sr., was a jazz musician and business owner as well as one of the first blacks in Illinois to earn a pilot's license. Maternal grandfather Earl "Lefty" Lewis was a left- handed pitcher in the Negro Baseball League who also worked as a porter in the Pullman railroad cars and became a union organizer. Curtis would characterize both these men in Bud, Not Buddy.
Curtis's favorite books in middle school were the adult novels To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee and The Bridges of Toko-Ri by James A. Michener. However, like many children his age, he was less in love with books than he was with newspapers, comic books, and magazines such as Newsweek, Sports Illustrated, and Mad. In an interview for the New York Public Library Web site, Curtis recalled, "I read a lot, but books didn't really touch me, probably because there weren't a lot of books for or about young black children." Despite the lack of literature that spoke to him, however, Curtis knew he wanted to be a writer from an early age.
After graduating from high school, Curtis was accepted at the University of Michigan—Flint. To earn money for college, he got a summer job at Fisher Body, the plant where his father worked. Although the teen attended classes for a year, work won out and he left school to work full-time at the auto factory. While continuing his education with one or two night classes per term, he continued his assembly-line job for thirteen years. The work was repetitive and boring, but he liked his coworkers and enjoyed listening to the stories of those who had migrated to Flint from the South. Although they often spoke fondly of their homes and families, they also described their experiences with racism.
Although Curtis dabbled with fiction for several years, when he read Toni Morrison's adult novel Sula in the early 1970s, he decided to put more effort into his writing. Several years later, while on a visit to nearby Ontario, he met Kaysandra Sookram, a nursing student from Trinidad. The two exchanged letters—and Curtis impressed the young woman with his writing talent—while their romance grew. Eventually married, they had two children, Steven and Cydney.
Meanwhile, Curtis started using break time at work to write in a journal. Writing helped him to relieve the tedium of the factory, but also made him want to develop his talent. One day he realized what he was sacrificing by staying at the factory, and in 1985 he left work. In addition to completing his degree at the University of Michigan—Flint, Curtis worked as an assistant to Michigan Senator Don Riegle and took several other odd jobs to support his family.
Inspired by a family trip to Florida in the early 1990s, Curtis's story "The Watsons Go to Florida," won the Jules Hopwood Prize at the University of Michigan—Flint, At Kaysandra's urging, Curtis took a year's leave of absence to turn his story into a book. He then entered the resulting manuscript in a writing contest sponsored by Delacorte, a book publisher in New York City that offered a prize for a first novel for young adults. Although Curtis's book did not win the prize, it was nonetheless accepted for publication, and the fledgling author was on his way.
In The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963 readers meet Kenny Watson, a bright, sensitive boy who narrates the story of how his quirky but close-knit family travels from the blue-collar town of Flint, Michigan, to Birmingham, Alabama. In addition to Kenny, the family includes thirteen-year-old Byron, five-year-old Joetta, and their parents. The Watsons make the trip to visit Mrs. Watson's mother, Grandma Sands, a small but feisty woman who, the family hopes, can shakes some sense into Byron, a budding juvenile delinquent. In the first half of his novel, Curtis focuses on Byron's escapades, which include straightening his hair and flushing flaming paper parachutes down the toilet. On their way to Birmingham, the children experience racial prejudice that they had not encountered in their segregated neighborhood in Flint. As hoped, Byron is awed by his grandmother and begins to act more appropriately once the family reaches Birmingham, even saving Kenny when the younger boy almost drowns in a dangerous swimming hole.
The family's vacation plays out against a violent backdrop. In 1963 Birmingham was in a volatile state as many of its citizens reacted to the forced integration of black children into the city's white schools, and the mounting frustration resulted in the racially motivated bombing of the Sixteenth Avenue Baptist Church. The Watsons come face-to-face with this event because little Joetta is attending that church's Sunday School during the bombing. When Kenny goes to the site, he finds one of his sister's shoes among the rubble and assumes the worst. Although the boy returns home to find Joetta unharmed, the violence he has witnessed throws him into a deep depression even after he and his family return home to Flint. Kenny begins to hide behind the sofa which, according to Watson family tradition, has healing powers for family pets. Finally, Byron draws Kenny out and helps the younger boy deal with his feelings of fear and anger by reassuring him about the strength of family ties.
Writing in the St. James Guide to Children's Writers, Gwen A. Tarbox stated that, in narrating his story through Kenny, "Curtis provides a detailed and poignant description of the inner life of an African-American family" and "uses a humorous style that is unique and geared to appeal to young adults as well as to children." The author's "control of his material is superb as he unconventionally shifts tone and mood," Martha V. Parravano observed in her Horn Book review, the critic concluding that in The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963 "Curtis has created a wholly original novel." "We all have special books in our lives," Teri Lesnesne wrote in Teacher Librarian, "books which have moved us to laughter or tears, … books which leave a permanent mark on our lives as readers. That was certainly my experience when I read The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963."
As in Curtis's first novel, Bud, Not Buddy features a ten-year-old boy from Flint as its main character and narrator. However, in contrast to the stable family life enjoyed by Kenny Watson, Bud Caldwell—a self-proclaimed master liar whose bravado masks his need for affection—never knew his father and lost his mother when he was six years old. Before her death, Bud's mother left him clues to the identity of his father: flyers of Herman E. Calloway and his jazz band, the Dusky Devastators of the Depression. Shunted between an orphanage and a series of foster homes, Bud decides to leave his latest foster parents, who have shut him up in a shed filled with hornets, and hit the road. Spending the night in a shanty town outside of Flint, Bud learns that prejudice and hardship happen to everyone, despite their color. When Bud runs into his friend Bugs, a fellow orphan who has left the Home, the two plan to hop a train to Chicago. However, a raid on the shanty town by Pinkerton guards causes Bud to miss the train and instead he is given a ride by a kindly union man, Lefty Lewis, who drives the boy north to Grand Rapids. Although Bud finds Herman E. Calloway, the bandleader denies that he is Bud's father and shuns him. However, Calloway's band welcomes the boy, giving him a saxophone to learn to play. After Calloway is proven to be Bud's grandfather, the older man accepts his grandson, and Bud finds a new home with the band.
Reviewing Bud, Not Buddy in Booklist, Michael Cart noted that Curtis's second novel "will attract and delight countless readers with its genial good humor and generosity of spirit," and deemed the book "a celebration of the human capacity for simple goodness." Writing in Horn Book, Roger Sutton called Bud, Not Buddy a story "as classic as it is immediate," while Daria Donnelly concluded in Commonweal that Curtis's young narrator "seems an utterly authentic boy" thanks to the author's ability to "create … a perfectly rendered character rather than a sociological fact."
Bucking the Sarge again takes readers to Flint, but this time the setting is a contemporary rather than historical one. The viewpoint is that of a bright fifteen year old named Luther T. Farrell. Luther narrates his experiences growing up with a mother whose lack of morals allows her to benefit from the hardship she creates for others. While "the Sarge" creates a cash cow of running decrepit group homes and renting out rat-infested slum housing, Luther is forced to aid and abet her money-making scams. Cast in a more compassionate mold that his mother, the boy dreams that a win at the upcoming middle-school science fair might afford him a way out. Meanwhile, his job at one of his mother's enterprises, the Happy Neighbor Group Home for Men (which requires him to drive with an illegal driver's license) is balanced by other unsavory tasks. Ultimately, Luther's ability to find humor in his situation combines with a plan to bring the Sarge to justice in a story a Publishers Weekly
[Image not available for copyright reasons]
contributor described as "a vibrant modern-day-battle between greed and morality." Praising Bucking the Sarge as an "hilarious, anguished novel," Hazel Rochman concluded in Booklist that Curtis mixes "bits of philosophy" with "comedy and sorrow" in a "gripping story."
In the mid-1990s Curtis relocated his family from Michigan to Ontario, to be closer to his wife's family. He makes that same geographical shift in Elijah of Buxton, which takes place in the mid-1800s in an Ontario community founded by runaway slaves. In the novel, eleven-year-old Elijah Freeman has been born into freedom in Buxton. Through the boy's story, readers learn what it is like for those making the transition from slave to free after their arduous journey north. When a friend is robbed of the money he had saved to purchase the freedom of his southern relatives, the free-born Elijah knows that he is the only one who can safely make the trip across the border into the United States to track down the thief. During his journey, the boy learns, first-hand, what it means to be enslaved, and the story's "powerful ending is violent and unsettling, yet also … uplifting," according to a Publishers Weekly contributor. In Horn Book, Sarah Ellis described Elijah of Buxton as an "arresting, surprising novel of reluctant heroism," and a Kirkus Reviews critic dubbed it "Curtis's best novel yet."
Something of a change of pace for Curtis, Mr. Chickee's Funny Money and Mr. Chickee's Messy Mission are the first two installments in the author's "Flint Future Detectives" series of elementary-grade chapter books. In Mr. Chickee's Funny Money readers meet Steven Carter, an amateur sleuth who, as inventor of the amazing Snoopeeze 9000, is president of the Flint Future Detectives Club. When Steven helps out an elderly blind neighbor named Mr. Chickee, the nine year old is rewarded outlandishly: with a very rare quadrillion-dollar bill featuring a picture of popular soul singer James Brown. Together with best friend Russell and Russell's dog Zoopy, Steven must now evade a bumbling U.S. government official hoping to acquire the unusual American currency. Noting that Curtis's humorous, high-action plot will appeal to reluctant readers, School Library Journal critic B. Allison Gray added that Mr. Chickee's Funny Money serves up "a humorous and exciting tall tale" salted with "a sense of whimsy and magical realism."
Steven's adventures continue in Mr. Chickee's Messy Mission. Here he joins friends Richelle and Russell to follow Russell's rambunctious dog Rodney Rodent into a strange mural that is home to a menacing-looking gnome. In the mural world, called Ourside, the detective trio meets up with Mr. Chickee and the members learn of their mission: they must locate Rodney Rodent and solve the prophecy that will save this strange alternative world. Praising Curtis's ability to create a "fast-paced, zany comedy," Connie Tyrrell Burns added in School Library Journal that Mr. Chickee's Messy Mission features "wacky characters" and "hilarious" plot twists that take humorous aim at such literary icons as J.K. Rowling's "Harry Potter" novels. Mr. Chickee's Messy Mission is "infused with the same high energy" and wordplay as its prequel, noted a Publishers Weekly reviewer.
In addition to his writing, Curtis is a regular speaker at schools and libraries, as well as through his foundation. On the Nobody but Curtis Web site, he revealed his inspiration for writing: "I believe that young people are often blessed with the best ears for protecting what rings true or what feels right in a particular piece of writing. To me, the highest accolade comes when a young reader tells me ‘I really liked your book.’ The young seem to be able to say ‘really’ with a clarity, a faith, and an honesty that we adults have long forgotten. That is why I write."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Contemporary Black Biography, Volume 26, Gale (Detroit, MI), 2000.
Gaines, Ann. G., Christopher Paul Curtis, Mitchell Lane Publishers (Bear, DE), 2001.
St. James Guide to Young-Adult Writers, 2nd edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.
ALAN Review, spring, 1996, Jeanne Marcum Gerlach, review of The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963.
Booklist, August, 1995, Hazel Rochman, review of The Watsons Go to Burimingham—1963, p. 1946; September 1, 1999, Hazel Rochman, review of Bud, Not Buddy, p. 131; February 15, 2000, Michael Cart, "On the Road with Bud (Not Buddy)," p. 1094; July, 2004, Hazel Rochman, review of Bucking the Sarge, p. 1842; August, 2005, Ilene Cooper, review of Mr. Chickee's Funny Money, p. 2026; February 1, 2007, Michael Cart, review of Mr. Chickee's Messy Mission, p. 57.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, January, 1996, review of The Watson's Go to Birmingham—1963, p. 157; November, 1999, review of Bud, Not Buddy, p. 89; December, 2005, review of Mr. Chickee's Funny Money, p. 174; April, 2007, Karen Coats, review of Mr. Chickee's Messy Mission, p. 326; October, 2007, Karen Coats, review of Elija of Buxton, p. 79.
Canadian Review of Materials, January 15, 1998, review of The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963; February 4, 2000, Mary Thomas, review of Bud, Not Buddy.
Commonweal, April 7, 2000, Daria Donnelly, "Hey! Harry Potter Has Cousins!," p. 23.
Detroit News, February 4, 2000, Michael H. Hodges, "Children's Author Is Still a Kid at Heart."
Essence, June, 2000, "First Person Singular."
Horn Book, March-April, 1996, Martha V. Parravano, review of The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963, p. 195; November, 1999, Roger Sutton, review of Bud, Not Buddy, p. 737; November-December, 2007, Sarah Ellis, review of Elijah of Buxton, p. 677.
Instructor, September, 2000, Lillian Forman, "Christopher Paul Curtis," p. 59.
Kirkus Reviews, September 15, 2005, review of Mr. Chickee's Funny Money, p. 1024; December 1, 2006, review of Mr. Chickee's Messy Mission, p. 1218; August 15, 2007, review of Elijah of Buxton.
Peacework, July-August, 2000, Lani Gerson, "Beyond Harry Potter: Children's Books Too Good to Miss."
Publishers Weekly, October 16, 1995, review of The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963, p. 62; August 9, 1999, review of Bud, Not Buddy, p. 352; July 19, 2004, review of Bucking the Sarge, p. 162; September 5, 2005, review of Mr. Chickee's Funny Money, p. 62; December 18, 2006, review of Mr. Chickee's Messy Mission, p. 63; September 10, 2007, review of Elijah of Buxton, p. 61.
Riverbank Review, winter, 1999-2000, Martha Davis Beck, interview with Curtis.
School Library Journal, June, 1996, review of The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963, p. 55; September, 1999, Kathleen Isaacs, review of Bud, Not Buddy, p. 221; October, 2005, B. Allison Gray, review of Mr. Chickee's Funny Money, p. 157; February, 2007, Connie Tyrrell Burns, review of Mr. Chickee's Messy Mission, p. 116.
Teacher Librarian, March, 1999, Teri Lesnesne, "Writing the Stories Brewing inside of Us" (interview), p. 54.
Drive Online,http://www.thedriveonline.com (April 16, 2003).
New York Public Library Web site,http://www2.nypl.org/home/branch (August 7, 2002), interview with Curtis.
Nobody but Curtis Foundation Web site,http://www.nobodybutcurtis.com (March 1, 2008), "Christopher Paul Curtis."
Powell's Books Web site,http://www.powells.com/ (April 5, 2000), David Weich, interview with Curtis.
"Curtis, Christopher Paul 1954(?)–." Something About the Author. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 13, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/children/scholarly-magazines/curtis-christopher-paul-1954
"Curtis, Christopher Paul 1954(?)–." Something About the Author. . Retrieved December 13, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/children/scholarly-magazines/curtis-christopher-paul-1954
Curtis, Christopher Paul 1954(?)–
Christopher Paul Curtis 1954(?)–
The life story of Christopher Paul Curtis has a fairytale ending. After working more than a dozen years on an automobile assembly line, Curtis wrote two critically acclaimed children’s books. His 1999 novel Bud, Not Buddy won the Newbery Medal, which is one of the most coveted prizes in children’s literature. The success of these books enabled Curtis to fulfill his lifelong dream of becoming a writer.
Curtis grew up in Flint, Michigan. After graduating from high school, he enrolled at the University of Michigan, Flint to study political science. However, in 1972, Curtis succumbed to the temptation of the relatively good wages to be made at the nearby Fisher Body automobile plant where his father worked. When the boredom of working for ten hours a day on an automobile assembly line became unbearable, he began to write to challenge himself intellectually. For thirty minutes, he would hang thirty car doors on the passenger side of Buicks as they slowly moved past on the assembly line. While his partner hung the next thirty doors, Curtis put pen to paper. Some of the works he composed were letters to Kaysandra, a registered nurse whom he met in 1977 and married 11 years later. Curtis quit working at the plant in 1985, and worked at a variety of other jobs. In 1988, he managed democratic Senator Donald Reigle, Jr.’s election campaigns in Flint and Saginaw.
In 1993, Kaysandra Curtis encouraged her husband to take a year off to write and earn his bachelor of arts degree. While attending classes at the University of Michigan in Flint, Curtis won Hopwood Awards for his essays and for the manuscript of what would eventually become his first published children’s book The Watsons Go to Birmingham — 1963. Although Curtis did not intend to write a children’s book, the story he wanted to tell came to him in the voice of a ten-year-old boy. He wrote his tale of the close-knit Watson family, known as the “Weird Watsons,” while sitting in the children’s department of the Windsor Public Library, in Windsor, Ontario. When he needed a break, he would help someone with homework or talk to the children. Curtis’s son Steven, a much better typist than his father, typed the daily portion of manuscript into the computer each night. Steven also critiqued his father’s work. “Lots of people can say they like it or they don’t, but not many can say what exactly doesn’t work. He can,” Curtis related to Linnea Lannon of the Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service. Curtis submitted his manuscript to Delacorte’s annual writing contest for first young adult novel, one
Born May 10, 1954 in Flint, Ml; son of Herman (an auto worker) and Leslie Curtis; married Kaysandra (a registered nurse); children: Steven, Cydney. Education: University of Michigan-Flint, B.A., 1996.
Career: Writer. Fisher Body Plant, Flint, Ml, assembly line worker, 1972-85; assistantto Senator Don Reigle, Lansing, Ml; Automatic Data Processing, Allen Park, Ml
Awards: Hopwood Awards for essays, University of Michigan, Flint; Best Books, Publishers Weekly and New York Times Book Review, 1996; Coretta Scott KingText Honor, Best Books for Young Adults, and Newbery Honor Book, for The Watsons Goto Birmingham —1963, 1996; John Newbery Award and Coretta Scott King Awardfor Bud, Not Buddy, 2000.
Addresses: Home—Windsor, Ontario, Canada.
of four hundred manuscripts the publisher received that year. Although The Watsons Go to Birmingham did not fit the criteria for the contest, an editor pulled it out of the pile because of its eye-catching title and eventually decided to publish it. When the novel appeared in 1995, critics lavished praise upon it and actress Whoopi Goldberg bought film rights to the story.
Set in 1963 and told from the point of view of ten-year-old Kenny, readers meet the close-knit, Watson family, which includes the bossy older brother, Byron, and younger sister Joetta. When 13-year-old Byron starts getting into trouble in Flint, Michigan, his parents decide to take him to Alabama to live for a time with his Grandmother Sands. While traveling south in their car, the Watson children become aware of racial prejudice they had not experienced in the North. While they are in Alabama, a bomb explodes in a Sunday school classroom, one that Joetta had previously occupied. Although she is safe because she left school early, four other girls are killed. The entire community is shocked and the Watsons return to Michigan with new insights. While writing his debut novel, Curtis relied on the experiences of family members and personal memories. The bombing incident was based on the actual bombing of the Sixteenth Avenue Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, which took place in September of 1963.
Critics applauded The Watsons Go to Birmingham for Curtis’s characterizations, humor, and combination of factual and fictional events. According to Lannon, “It is a mark of Curtis’ skill that he so easily makes the transition from humorous family vignettes to a life-threatening run-in with racism.” Because readers have gotten to know and like the fictional Watson family, they react with distaste to the racism the Watsons encounter. “Curtis has created a wholly original novel in this warmly memorable evocation of an African American family and their experiences both terrible and transcendent,” added Martha V. Parravano in her review for Horn Book. One day while Curtis was writing in the library, a librarian approached him with a big smile on her face. She gave the surprised Curtis a hug and said to call home because The Watsons Go to Birmingham had just won the two most important awards in children’s literature. “I still have a moment of disbelief when I am introduced as a Newbery or Coretta Scott King Honor winner,” Curtis later told Teri Lesesne in an interview for Teacher Librarian. “Not only do the awards make it possible for the book to get much wider recognition and placement, they also help immeasurably in boosting one’s self confidence, something writers are always in need of.”
After his usual early morning game of basketball at the YMCA, Curtis went to the library and began working on a new novel. The new novel, Bud, Not Buddy, was published in 1999. “I actively tried not to think about the reception of The Watsons while I was working on number two,” Curtis told Lesesne. “I love the whole writing process and simply got back into the joy of writing.” In Bud, Not Buddy, Curtis did not plan a specific plot in advance, but focused instead on the personality of the main character. The main character and narrator is ten-year-old Bud Caldwell, an orphan who wants to find his birth father. Caldwell escapes from an orphanage in Flint and journeys 120 miles to Grand Rapids, where he believes his father is working as a leader for the band Herman E. Calloway and the Dusky Devastators of the Depression!!!!!! Again, a likeable main character, humor, and a concrete sense of place made this novel a standout. Although the novel is set in the 1930s during the Great Depression, Curtis was not trying to teach readers about history. He was using his grandfathers (one a band leader, the other a Negro League baseball pitcher) as models for characters. As Curtis explained to Michael D. Schaffer of the Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service, “I really believe the story comes first. You get kids’ attention first…. Then they can gain an idea of what is going on.” During his search for his father, Bud encounters a number of kind strangers, becomes involved in both humorous and frightening situations, and eventually finds a treasure, though one different than he expects.
Reviewers found much to like about Bud, Not Buddy. Writing in Booklist, Michael Cart summed up the novel’s appeal, “Curtis turns his novel into a celebration of the human capacity for simple goodness. Bud is, throughout, an altogether engaging character, and his search for a father—and the extended family that he finds instead—will warm readers’ hearts and refresh their spirits.” In the New York Times Book Review, Lois Metzger described Bud, Not Buddy as a “powerfully felt novel,” one that is “funny, eloquent, deeply sad and delightful (usually all at once).” “Surely Curtis’ second novel will attract and delight countless readers with its genial good humor and its generosity of spirit,” predicted Cart. When Curtis won the Newbery Medal and the Coretta Scott King Award in 2000 for Bud, Not Buddy, he had much to celebrate. He became the first African American to win the Newbery Medal since 1976, when Mildred Taylor won for Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. With these prestigious honors, Curtis’s books were destined to become classics of children’s literature, and allow him the financial security to write full time.
Curtis credits his wife for his tremendous success because she believed in his dream and gave him the freedom to pursue it. “I never thought it would be possible to make a living as a writer, but my wife Kay had more faith in me and gave me the courage and opportunity to take a chance,” Curtis told Lesesne. “I do believe we all have stories brewing inside of us, that it takes just the right amount of maturity, skill, dedication and luck to get them down into a published book.” Curtis has many more stories to tell, stories that are just waiting to be scrawled onto yellow legal pads at a table in the childrens’ section of the Windsor Public Library.
Contemporary Authors, Gale (Detroit), 2000.
Something about the Author, volume 93, Gale (Detroit), 1997.
St. James Guide to Young Adult Writers, St. James Press (Detroit), 1999.
Booklist, August, 1995, p. 1946; July, 1997, p. 1830; February 15, 2000, p. 1094.
Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, January, 1996, pp. 157-58.
Horn Book, March-April, 1996, pp. 195-96.
Jet, February 21, 2000, p. 36.
Kirkus Reviews, October 1, 1995, p. 1426.
Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service, December 27, 1995, p. 1227K1113; January 26, 2000, p. K6367.
Library Journal, February 1, 1997, p. 127.
New York Times Book Review, November 21, 1999, p. 32.
People, April 17, 2000, p. 113+.
Publishers Weekly, October 16, 1995, p. 62; December 18, 1995, pp. 28-30.
School Library Journal, October, 1995, p. 152.
Teacher Librarian, March, 1999, p. 54.
Time, January 31, 2000, p. 68.
—Jeanne M. Lesinski
"Curtis, Christopher Paul 1954(?)–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 13, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/curtis-christopher-paul-1954
"Curtis, Christopher Paul 1954(?)–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved December 13, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/curtis-christopher-paul-1954