Crutcher, Chris 1946–
Crutcher, Chris 1946–
(Christopher C. Crutcher)
PERSONAL: Born July 17, 1946, in Cascade, ID; son of John William (a county clerk) and Jewell (Morris) Crutcher. Education: Eastern Washington State College (now University), B.A., 1968. Politics: Independent
ADDRESSES: Home—East 3405 Marion St., Spokane, WA 99223. Office—Community Mental Health, South 107 Division, Spokane, WA 99202. Agent—Liz Darhansoff, 1220 Park Ave., New York, NY 10028.
CAREER: Kennewick Dropout School, Kennewick, WA, teacher of high school dropouts, 1970–73; Lakeside School, Oakland, CA, teacher, 1973–76, director of school, 1976–80; Community Mental Health, Spokane, WA, child protection team specialist, 1980–82, child and family therapist, 1982–.
AWARDS, HONORS: American Library Association's list of best books for young adults, 1983, for Running Loose, 1986, for Stotan!, 1989, for Chinese Handcuffs, 1991, for Athletic Shorts, 1993, for Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, and 1995, for Ironman; School Library Journal's best books for young adults list, and American Library Association's list of best books for young adults for The Crazy Horse Electric Game, both 1988; Michigan Library Association Best Young Adult Book of 1992, for Athletic Shorts; ALAN award for Significant Contribution to Adolescent Literature; National Intellectual Freedom Award, National Council of Teachers of English, 1998; ALA Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime achievement in writing for teenagers, 2000; Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association and Washington State Book awards for Whale Talk, 2002; "Writers Who Make a Difference" Award, Writer, 2004.
BOOKS FOR YOUNG ADULTS
Running Loose, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1983, HarperTempest (New York, NY), 2003.
Stotan!, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1986.
The Crazy Horse Electric Game, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1987.
Chinese Handcuffs, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1989.
Athletic Shorts: Six Short Stories, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1991, HarperTempest (New York, NY), 2002.
Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1993, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2003.
Ironman, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1995.
(Contributor) Lisa Rowe Fraustino, editor, Dirty Laundry, Stories about Family Secrets, Viking (New York, NY), 1998.
Whale Talk, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 2001.
The Deep End, Morrow (New York, NY), 1991.
King of the Mild Frontier: An Ill-Advised Autobiography, Greenwillow Books/ HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2003.
Contributor to Spokane magazine.
ADAPTATIONS: Audio versions have been made of Athletic Shorts, Ironman, Whale Talk, and Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes; screenplay for Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes in production.
SIDELIGHTS: Chris Crutcher grew up in a town so small that a local athletic competition would bring business to a standstill. Crutcher played many sports in high school, did well in college swimming, and began participating in triathlons after college. It comes as no surprise then that competitive sports figure heavily in his writing. Throughout his schooling, as he describes in his autobiography, Crutcher was a self-professed academic underachiever, his family life was challenging, and he grew up with a violent temper. Yet he eventually earned a B.A. with a major in psychology and a minor in sociology, and became a high school social studies teacher, a school administrator, and a therapist at a mental health facility. After completing his education, Crutcher taught in tough, inner-city schools and ran an alternative school for inner-city kids in Oakland, California, before becoming a child and family therapist, all of which helped prepare him to write about a wide variety of serious problems with which adolescents are confronted daily in modern day American culture.
"Writing with a vitality and authority that stems from personal experiences in Running Loose, Stotan!, and The Crazy Horse Electric Game, Chris Crutcher gives readers the inside story on young men, sports, and growing up," wrote Christine McDonnell in Horn Book. "His heroes—sensitive, reflective young men, far from stereotypic jocks—use sports as an arena to test personal limits; to prove stamina, integrity, and identity; and to experience loyalty and cooperation as well as competition." In Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, Crutcher teams a girl whose face is disfigured by a burn and her longtime overweight friend, "Moby" Calhoun, both of whom have the "terminal uglies," in the eyes of their schoolmates. The friends ultimately discover the shameful truth of how Sarah got her burn. In a New York Public Library "Author Chat," Crutcher told a caller: "The 'event' came from a real event in which a man burned his child in a drunken rage, and then handed her back to her mother and said, 'There's your pretty little girl for you.' The real people were very different from those in the story, and I did the 'what if' game to create characters who would help me tell the story the way I wanted to tell it." Crutcher does much to expose the real ugliness of what many children suffer, along with a message of courage and possibilities for healing.
In Ironman a high school senior, Bo Brewster, is locked "in a perpetual struggle with an authoritarian father and a battle with a tyrannical teacher," according to New York Times reviewer James Gorman. It is the story, Gorman wrote, of "Bo's search for self-understanding, self-possession and self-respect." Gorman noted that even if the book sounds like the plot of a television movie, "[Crutcher's] tale is a lot stronger than the flash that overlays it. He's a terrific storyteller with a wonderful handle on what it's like to be an adolescent." After a gap of six years, Crutcher produced Whale Talk, another story set in a small northwest town, where Tao (T.J.) Jones, a mixed-race high school athlete—"witty, self-assured, fearless, intelligent, and wise beyond his years" according to Todd Morning in the School Library Journal,—"has refused to play on the school teams and thus condone the Cutter High School cult of athletic privilege. He agrees to lead a startup swim team only to buck the system by signing up every needy misfit he can find—from a special ed. student to a 'one-legged psychopath'—and ensuring that each will win a Cutter High letterman's jacket. In quintessential Crutcher form, the unlikely athletes build up not only physical strength but emotional support as the team bus becomes a mobile group-therapy session," as a Horn Book reviewer described. Booklist's Kelly Miller Halls quoted Crutcher on two swim team members: "I actually don't look at either of them as being disabled. I see them as warriors—guys who have really been through it and are struggling to stand up for what they have." T.J. fights elitism among school jocks, extreme racism in the stepfather of a friend, and an arrogant coach to bring his team through.
In 2003, Crutcher broke form by writing King of the Mild Frontier: An Ill-Advised Autobiography. A Horn Book reviewer praised the new venture: "Crutcher, best known for his novels and short stories, has discovered his most effective voice in this collection of episodic, autobiographical essays." In a Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literature interview, James Blasingame asked Crutcher about the ways he deals with death in his essays. The author responded, "The common issue is loss, and death is the trump card of loss. In the preface to one of the short stories in Athletic Shorts … I said there is a case to be made that from the time of birth, when we lose a warm, enclosed, safe place to be, our lives are made up of a series of losses and our grace can be measured by how we face those losses, and how we replace what is lost. What I'm talking about there is the process of grief, which is one of the most important things we do as humans—taking the risk of losing one thing so we can go on to the next. I believe our culture doesn't understand that very well, and it often tries to force us to hold on to old perceptions and beliefs that have little or no further use and that keep us stuck and afraid. If we do learn to face death, accommodate and accept it, there are few lesser changes that can tip us over, though there are certainly 'fates worse than death.' So, yeah, I think it's common for kids, at their developmental level, and it is common for us at ours." Crutcher, whose work has at times been censored by over-zealous librarians, parents, and teachers for his real-to-life dealing with the complexities—humorous and tragic—of teenage life, addresses these issues and shares stories from his growing up, which Joel Shoemaker in the School Library Journal described as "tough and tender reminiscences [which] focus primarily on family, social, and school conflicts, but lessons derived from his career as a teacher, therapist, and writer are also described. Hyperbole lightens the mood as the author portrays himself as a young crybaby, academic misfit, and athletic klutz, utterly without self-aggrandizement." It is his humility, wrote a Publishers Weekly reviewer, "that allows readers to laugh with young Chris, rather than at him" when he constantly gets into trouble under his older brother's tutelage, gets hit in the mouth with a softball bat showing off for the girls' team, and trembles as "a terrified 123—pound freshman ('with all the muscle definition of a chalk outline')."
Crutcher shared the following thoughts on writing: "It is a joy to write a tale that is believable, that is real. Writing is also a way to express humor and to present different human perspectives. I like to explore the different ways in which people make sense of what goes on around them—ways in which they respond to the wide range of random things that happen, and to the situations they create.
"Working in the mental health field provides me with some unique perspectives on the human drama—how people get stuck and how they grow. Every client—man, woman, or child, no matter how damaged—has shown me at least a small glimpse of how we're all connected."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Children's Literature Review, Volume 28, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1992.
Davis, Terry, Presenting Chris Crutcher, Twayne (Boston, MA), 1997.
Twentieth-Century Young Adult Writers, 1st edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1994.
ALAN Review, fall, 1994, "Chris Crutcher—Hero or Villain?"
Booklist, March 1, 1995, p. 1240; April 1, 2001, pp. 1462, 1463; April 15, 2003, p. 1469.
Buffalo News, July 12, 1998, p. F7.
Denver Post, April 15, 2001, p. F-01.
Detroit News, October 3, 2003, p. 05.
Emergency Librarian, January-February, 1991, pp. 67-71; May-June 1996, interview with Crutcher, p. 61.
English Journal, November, 1989, pp. 44-46; March 1996, 36.
Horn Book, May-June, 1988, p. 332; September-October, 1995, p. 606; May, 2001, p. 320; May-June, 2003, p. 368.
Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, May, 2003, James Blasingame, interview with Crutcher, p. 696.
Kirkus Reviews, April 1, 2003, p. 532.
Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service, June 11, 2003, p. K1815.
Lion and the Unicorn: A Critical Journal of Children's Literature, June, 1992, p. 66.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, June 20, 1993, p. 3.
New York Times, May 18, 2003, p. 24.
New York Times Book Review, September 5, 1993, p. 17; July 2, 1995, p. 13.
Publishers Weekly, March 12, 2001, interview with Crutcher, p. 91; February 20, 1995, interview with Crutcher, p. 183; March 3, 2003, p. 77.
School Library Journal, February, 1996, p. 70; October, 1996, p. 78; January, 1997, p. 36; June 2000, interview with Crutcher, p. 42; May, 2001, p. 148; April, 2003, p. 176; October, 2003, reviews of Ironman, p. 99, and Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes (audiobook review), p. S68; November, 2003, Carole Fazioli, review of King of the Mild Frontier: An Ill-Advised Autobiography, p. 82.
Teacher Librarian, October, 2003, p. 36.
Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), August 11, 1991, p. 6.
VOYA: Voice of Youth Advocates, April, 1983, p. 36; June 2002, p. 94.
Chris Crutcher Home Page, http://www.aboutcrutcher.com/ (March 8, 2004).
New York Public Library, http://summerreading.nypl.org/ (July, 2002), interview with Crutcher.
Teenreads.com, http://www.teenreads.com/ (April 2, 2001), interview with Crutcher.