Crutcher, Chris 1946- (Christopher C. Crutcher)

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Crutcher, Chris 1946- (Christopher C. Crutcher)

Personal

Born July 17, 1946, in Cascade, ID; son of John William (a county clerk) and Jewell Crutcher. Education: Eastern Washington State College (now University), B.A., 1968; received teaching certificate, 1970. Politics: "Independent." Hobbies and other interests: Running, swimming, music, basketball.

Addresses

Home—Spokane, WA. E-mail—[email protected]

Career

Writer, therapist, teacher, and child advocacy worker. 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 Center, Spokane, WA, child protection team specialist, 1980-82, child and family therapist, 1982-95; full-time writer and mental health specialist and counselor in private practice, 1995—.

Awards, Honors

Best Books for Young Adults selection, American Library Association (ALA), 1983, for Running Loose, 1986, for Stotan!, 1987, for The Crazy Horse Electric Game, 1989, for Chinese Handcuffs, 1991, for Athletic Shorts, 1993, for Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, 1995, for Ironman, 2001, for Whale Talk, and 2004, for King of the Mild Frontier; Best Young Adult Book of 1992, Michigan Library Association, for Athletic Shorts; Assembly on Literature for Adolescents Award, National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), for significant

contribution to adolescent literature; National Intellectual Freedom Award, NCTE, 1998; Margaret A. Edwards Award, ALA, for lifetime achievement in writing for teenagers, 2000; Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Award and Washington State Book Award, both 2002, both for Whale Talk; "Writers Who Make a Difference" Award, Writer, 2004; St. Katharine Drexel Award, Catholic Library Association, 2005.

Writings

YOUNG ADULT FICTION

Running Loose, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1983, reprinted, HarperTempest (New York, NY), 2003.

Stotan!, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1986, reprinted, HarperTempest (New York, NY), 2003.

The Crazy Horse Electric Game, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1987, reprinted, HarperTempest (New York, NY), 2003.

Chinese Handcuffs, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1989, reprinted, HarperTempest (New York, NY), 2004.

Athletic Shorts: Six Short Stories, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1991.

Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1993.

Ironman, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1995.

Whale Talk, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 2001.

The Sledding Hill, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 2005.

Deadline, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 2007.

Contributor to Ultimate Sports: Short Stories by Outstanding Writers for Young Adults, edited by Donald R. Gallo, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1995; Dirty Laundry: Stories about Family Secrets, edited by Lisa Rowe Fraustino, Viking (New York, NY), 1998; Time Capsule: Short Stories about Teenagers throughout the Twentieth Century, edited by Donald R. Gallo, Delacorte, 1999; On the Fringe, edited by Donald R. Gallo, Dial (New York, NY), 2001; and Guys Write for Guys Read, edited by Jon Scieszka, Viking, 2005.

OTHER

The Deep End (adult novel), Morrow (New York, NY), 1992.

King of the Mild Frontier: An Ill-advised Autobiography, Greenwillow Books (New York, NY), 2003.

(Author of foreword) Cynthia Ann Bowman and Paul T. Jaeger, editors, Handicapable Teens: A Guide to High School Success for Students with Disabilities, Greenwood (New York, NY), 2005.

Contributor to periodicals, including Voices from the Middle, Family Energy, Signal Journal, and Spokane magazine.

Adaptations

Audio versions have been made of Athletic Shorts, Ironman, Whale Talk, and Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes; Angus a motion picture released by New Line Cinema, 1995, was adapted from a short story.

Sidelights

Chris Crutcher, an educator, family therapist, and mental health specialist, is the author of several critically acclaimed novels for teenagers, including Stotan!, Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, and Deadline. His works are recognized for addressing a wide variety of serious problems with which adolescents are confronted daily in modern day American culture. The recipient of the Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime achievement in young-adult literature, Crutcher told Horn Book interviewer Betty Carter: "Adolescence is often the first time people see that they have some influence over their world…. And that's a natural place to tell the story because, in my own memory, the heat was really turned up then. One of the reasons I write about older teenagers is that they're on the edge of having to live their lives themselves. Those initial decisions they make are really important."

In his works for teenagers, Crutcher surveys the struggle of young people to grow up and take charge of their own lives. Inspired by a conversation Crutcher over- heard in a locker room fifteen years before in which a racist coach directed his players to eliminate an African-American player, Running Loose, Crutcher's first novel, is set in Trout, Idaho—a small town much like Crutcher's hometown of Cascade. As his senior year begins, Louie thinks his life is set. He is at peace with his parents, a good-natured, insightful couple modeled on Crutcher's own mother and father; he is a starter on the school's eight-man football team, where he is surrounded by his buddies; and he has Becky, a wonderful girlfriend. But his perfect life soon begins to unravel. The trouble begins after a game with a rival school with a challenging team anchored by Washington, a talented black quarterback. In a bigoted harangue, Louie's coach orders the Trout team to sideline Washington with crippling tackles, and one of Louie's teammates complies. Louie denounces the play and storms off the field, ending his football career. His football buddies refuse to join the walkout, even if they agree with him. The coach lies his way out of the situation, and the townspeople are left to assume that Louie just lost control.

A Kirkus Reviews critic claimed that Louie tells his story with "strong feeling and no crap, as he might say," and added that as a "dramatic, head-first confrontation with mendacity, fate's punches, and learning to cope, it's a zinger." Zena Sutherland, writing in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, called Running Loose an "unusually fine first novel," while School Library Journal reviewer Trev Jones said that Louie tells his story with "sensitivity, humor, and outrage" and that the book "raises important issues for adolescents to consider."

For his second novel, Stotan!, Crutcher returned to the arena of high school sports, but the focus is now on self-discipline. The story begins when four high-school swimmers—Walker, the team captain, along with Lion, Nortie, and Jeff—volunteer for "Stotan Week," an endurance test given by their coach, a Korean American named Max Il Song. When the boys sign up, they learn that a "Stotan" is a cross between a Stoic and a Spartan, and Max makes them live up to the billing with harsh exercises, exhausting laps in the pool, and a "Torture Lane" for swimmers who try to slack off. Though the team expects their toughest challenge to be the statewide swimming meet, they must face a far greater challenge when Jeff develops a withering case of leukemia. Voice of Youth Advocates reviewer Mary K. Chelton noted that Stotan! depicts "beautifully the joy, pain, and emotional strength of a male adolescent friendship" and called it a "lovely story and a model of the realistic adolescent novel." Writing in School Library Journal, Jerry Flack dubbed Stotan! "a fine coming-of-age novel," while Horn Book critic Anita Silvey compared it to the books of John R. Tunis and Bruce Brooks's The Moves Make the Man, works "that use a sports setting and competition to discuss the greater issues of being young and alive."

The Crazy Horse Electric Game centers on Willie Weaver, a sixteen-year-old amateur baseball player living in small-town Coho, Montana, and pitching for a team sponsored by the Samson Floral Shop. In the greatest moment of his career, Willie throws a winning game against a championship team sponsored by Crazy Horse Electric. By the standards of Coho, he is now a living legend. Then a water-skiing accident leaves Willie brain-damaged; he is crippled and must struggle even to talk. His father, who was a winning college athlete, can scarcely stand the sight of him; friends feel awkward around him; and Willie hates his own life. Finally, he runs away from home and from human contact. After traveling as far as he can by bus, he finds himself in Oakland, California, at the One More Last Chance High School, a fictionalized version of an actual school where Crutcher used to teach. The OMLC instructors encourage Willie to use physical therapy, and even basketball, to reclaim control of his body. A reviewer in Publishers Weekly wrote that The Crazy Horse Electric Game "resound[s] with compassion for people tripped up by their own weaknesses" and praised its "poetic sensibility and gritty realism." Writing in Voice of Youth Advocates, Pam Spencer noted that, as in his previous novels, Crutcher writes about a young man being forced "to dig deep for the stabilization offered in reaching one's inner strength"; the critic concluded that "Crutcher writes powerfully and movingly of Willie's attempts to ‘become whole’ again." Horn Book reviewer Anita Silvey claimed that The Crazy Horse Electric Game "magnificently portrays the thoughts and feelings of a crippled athlete and is a testimony to the … human spirit."

Perhaps the grittiest of Crutcher's YA novels, Chinese Handcuffs describes the friendship between two emotionally traumatized young people. Dillon Hemmingway grew up watching his older brother Preston destroy himself, first through drugs and then through suicide. (Preston actually made a point of killing himself in Dillon's presence.) Dillon is close friends with Jennifer Lawless, who has been sexually abused for most of her life, first by her father when she was a small child, and then by her stepfather in the years since. Dillon thinks he is in love with Jennifer, but she has been too deeply wounded to reciprocate fully. Her emotional lifeline is sports, because the basketball court is the only place where she feels she can control her own fate. The title of the book refers to the efforts of Dillon and Jennifer to confront their pain: "Chinese handcuffs" are a classic basket-weaver's toy that only loosen their grip when the wearer stops pulling against them.

Chinese Handcuffs received a favorable response from some critics, while others found it too extreme for teens. Writing in Horn Book, Margaret A. Bush claimed that Crutcher "constructs his painful web with intelligent insight, creating a painful, powerful story…. In the end [Chinese Handcuffs] … is a compelling, well-paced, and even humorous [story] … of human failing, survival, and hope." Writing in Voice of Youth Advocates, Randy Brough called the work a "rewarding novel, tough, topical, compelling, and well written." The strong subject matter, however, was also a cause for controversy. A notable example was the reaction of the American Library Association. Its own Booklist magazine refused to review the book and offered a column questioning its merit. Conceding that Crutcher is "a strong writer" who is capable of making a "powerful moral point," Booklist critic Stephanie Zvirin went on to suggest that parts of the work, including Preston's suicide, are unduly graphic. In fact, Crutcher has suggested that the amount of fan mail the book generated may have worked in the book's favor; although Chinese Handcuffs was almost not named an ALA Best Book for Young Adults, it did eventually receive that honor.

In Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes Crutcher features Eric Calhoune, a senior nicknamed "Moby" for his swimming ability and size. His best friend, Sarah Byrnes, suffered terrible facial burns as a small girl and has recently retreated into silence. After Sarah escapes from the psychiatric unit of a local hospital, her psychotic father Virgil—whom readers discover was the cause of his daughter's disfigurement and who refused to let her have reconstructive surgery—stabs Eric and hijacks his car when he refuses to reveal Sarah's hiding place. Eric brings in his sympathetic coach as his ally, and with his help manages to set things aright. At the end of the novel, Eric gets a new stepfather, Sarah a new set of parents, and Virgil a beating and a jail sentence. "This is a book that punches you in the stomach and never gives you a moment to breathe," wrote Susan R. Farber in Voice of Youth Advocates, the critic concluding that Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes is Crutcher's "darkest and most riveting work to date." A Kirkus Reviews critic praised the novel as "pulse-pounding, on both visceral and emotional levels—a wild, brutal ride," and Janice M. Del Negro, writing in Booklist, considered it "strong on relationships, long on plot" and with "enough humor and suspense to make it an easy booktalk with appeal across gender lines."

In Ironman Crutcher chronicles the senior year of Bo Brewster, who has been assigned to an anger management group after quitting the football team and calling the coach a rude name. The group's instructor, Mr. Nak, a Japanese American from Texas, gives Bo the tools to come to realizations about himself and his relationship with his vicious father. At the same time, Bo trains rigorously for an upcoming triathlon event. The teen's determination to train as hard as he can is intensified by the fact that his father is trying to fix the event by bribing his son's main competitor. At the end of the novel, Bo competes in the triathlon with the support of the anger management group and discovers his personal strength and self-respect. Crutcher presents the story in Ironman as both a third-person narrative and in the form of letters from Bo to talk-show host Larry King, the only adult the boy feels will listen to him. Writing in School Library Journal, Tom S. Hurlburt said that "Crutcher has consistently penned exceptional reads for YAs, and Ironman is one of his strongest works yet." Roger Sutton, writing in Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, claimed: "If you like Crutcher, this is vintage stuff … [If] you haven't succumbed before, you aren't likely to now, but fans will welcome the winning formula." Writing in the New York Times Book Review, James Gorman noted, "The heart of the story is small and painful, and rings thoroughly true," while Horn Book reviewer Peter D. Sieruta concluded that Ironman is a novel that "doesn't strive for easy answers, but does ask many intriguing questions of both its characters and its readers."

Returning to the subject of racism, Crutcher's novel Whale Talk focuses on close-minded individuals and features the familiar Crutcher underdogs who must deal directly with social issues, including hatred toward multiracial children. A gifted but uninterested athlete, senior high school student T.J. Jones, of black, white, and Japanese heritage, is finally persuaded by a favorite teacher to organize a swim team at school. The reluctant teen agrees, but instead of turning to popular athletes to join the squad, T.J. looks for those students on the fringes of school society. As the season progresses, the team's members become a unusually competitive bunch, all the while working out individual problems with the newfound support of their teammates. A Publishers Weekly reviewer called Whale Talk "a gripping tale of small-town prejudice [that] delivers a frank, powerful message about social issues and ills," and "will force readers to re-examine their own values and cause them to alter their perception of individuals pegged as ‘losers.’" In Horn Book, a reviewer asserted that "Crutcher knows his stuff, and he pumps adrenaline throughout the sport scenes while honestly acknowledging the personal struggles of his adolescent readers."

Set in rural Idaho, The Sledding Hill concerns Eddie Proffitt, a hyperactive, misfit teen who has stopped talking since the recent violent deaths of his best friend, Billy, and his father. Assigned to read the controversial novel Warren Peece (by author Chris Crutcher), Eddie channels his energy into a debate over censorship when Sanford Tarter, the leader of the fundamentalist Red Brick Church, tries to ban the book. Narrated by Billy, who watches over his mournful friend, The Sledding Hill "is a story about human connection and spirituality," wrote Pam B. Cole in Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy. As the critic added, "Crutcher's affinity for adolescents and their need for voice and control in their lives resonates." Robin Smith, writing in Horn Book, stated that "both Billy and Eddie are confidently evoked with Crutcher's winning blend of pathos and humor," and a reviewer in Publishers Weekly complimented the "highly entertaining plot."

An eighteen year old learns that he has only a year to live in Deadline, "a thoroughly enjoyable read," wrote Paula Rohrlick in Kliatt. Diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of leukemia, high school senior Ben Wolf decides to invoke doctor-patient confidentiality and keep his illness a secret. He also becomes determined to live his life to the fullest, which includes joining the football team, challenging conventional wisdom, and asking out the class heartthrob. Writing in Booklist, Gillian Engberg noted that "teens' interest will be held by the sto- ry's dramatic premise," and Carter described the work as "an exhilarating read that will make readers wonder about the meaning and worth of their own lives."

Athletic Shorts: Six Short Stories features some of the characters from Crutcher's novels as well as some new characters. The first story, which outlines how a fat, clumsy boy raised by two sets of homosexual parents finds dignity when he is chosen as a joke to be the king of the senior ball, and the final entry, in which Louie Banks, the title character of Running Loose, accepts a boy dying from AIDS as a friend even though his decision threatens his relationship with a fellow athlete, have been singled out as especially effective. Writing in School Library Journal, Todd Morning said, "These Athletic Shorts will appeal to YAs, touch them deeply, and introduce them to characters they'll want to know better." Horn Book reviewer Nancy Vasilakis noted, "One need not to have read Crutcher's novels to appreciate the young men within these pages. They stand proudly on their own," while Voice of Youth Advocates contributor Sue Krumbein concluded that all six stories "live up to the high expectations we've come to expect of Crutcher."

In 2003 Crutcher broke form by writing King of the Mild Frontier: An Ill-advised Autobiography. A Horn Book reviewer praised the new venture, stating that "Crutcher, best known for his novels and short stories, has discovered his most effective voice in this collection of episodic, autobiographical essays." Crutcher, whose work has at times been censored by librarians, parents, and teachers for its real-to-life portrayal of the complexities—humorous and tragic—of teenage life, addresses these issues and shares stories from his growing-up years. Joel Shoemaker, writing in School Library Journal, described these essays 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." It is his humility, wrote a Publishers Weekly reviewer, "that allows readers to laugh with young Chris, rather than at him" when he constantly makes 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’)."

A full-time writer, Crutcher continues to work as a therapist and child protection advocate. "What I do as a therapist is listen to somebody's story and look for that thread, the pieces that run through his or her life that have meaning; [I try to] find the truth and the lies and bring them to the surface," he told Carter. "As a writer, when I'm telling a story, I do it in reverse. Rather than taking it in, I'm writing it down, but I'm looking for the same truths and the same lies." In an interview with Christine McDonnell in Horn Book, Crutcher remarked: "I want to be remembered as a storyteller, and I want to tell stories that seem real so that people will recognize something in their own lives and see the connections. We are all connected. That's what I like to explore and put into stories."

Biographical and Critical Sources

BOOKS

Authors and Artists for Young Adults, Volume 9, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1992.

Children's Literature Review, Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 28, 1992, pp. 98-108.

Crutcher, Chris, King of the Mild Frontier: An Ill-advised Autobiography, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 2003.

Davis, Terry, Presenting Chris Crutcher, Twayne/Prentice-Hall (New York, NY), 1997.

Gallo, Donald R., editor, Speaking for Ourselves: Autobiographical Sketches by Notable Authors of Books for Young Adults, National Council of Teachers of English (Urbana, IL), 1990, p. 59.

Hauschildt, Patricia M., Teaching the Selected Works of Chris Crutcher, Heinemann (Portsmouth, NH), 2008.

Silvey, Anita, editor, Children's Books and Their Creators, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1995.

Twentieth-Century Children's Writers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1994.

PERIODICALS

American Libraries, December, 2007, Jennifer Burek Pierce. "Redemptive Reading: Chris Crutcher Talks about Teens and Authenticity," p. 68.

Booklist, August, 1989, Stephanie Zvirin, "The YA Connection: Chinese Handcuffs," p. 1966; March 15, 1993, Janice M. Del Negro, review of Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, p. 1313; September 1, 2007, Gillian Engberg, review of Deadline, p. 131.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, May, 1983, Zena Sutherland, review of Running Loose, p. 165; April, 1995, Roger Sutton, review of Ironman, p. 269.

Emergency Librarian, January-February, 1991, Dave Jenkinson, "Portraits: Chris Crutcher," pp. 67-71.

Horn Book, September-October, 1986, Anita Silvey, review of Stotan!, p. 596; November-December, 1987, Anita Silvey, review of The Crazy Horse Electric Game, p. 741; May, 1988, Christine McDonnell, "New Voices, New Visions: Chris Crutcher," p. 332; July-August, 1989, Margaret A. Bush, review of Chinese Handcuffs, p. 487; September-October, 1991, Nancy Vasilakis, review of Athletic Shorts, pp. 602-603; May-June, 1993, Nancy Vasilakis, review of Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, p. 337; October, 1995, Peter D. Sieruta, review of Ironman, p. 606; May, 2001, review of Whale Talk, p. 320; May-June, 2003, Betty Carter, review of King of the Mild Frontier, p. 368; July-August, 2005, Robin Smith, review of The Sledding Hill, p. 468; September-October, 2007, Betty Carter, review of Deadline, p. 569.

Idaho Statesman (Boise, ID), July 28, 1983, Lori Montgomery, "Idaho Novelist: First Book Wins Raves."

Journal of Youth Services in Libraries, summer, 2000, Chris Crutcher, "The 2000 Margaret A. Edwards Award Acceptance Speech," pp. 17-19.

Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, May, 2003, James Blasingame, interview with Crutcher, p. 696; September, 2005, Pam B. Cole, review of The Sledding Hill, p. 74; March, 2008, James Blasingame, interview with Crutcher, p. 519.

Kirkus Reviews, April 15, 1983, review of Running Loose, p. 461; February 15, 1989, review of Chinese Handcuffs, p. 290; November 15, 1991, review of The Deep End, p. 1436; March 15, 1993, review of Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, p. 369.

Kliatt, September, 2007, Paula Rohrlick, review of Deadline, p. 10.

New York Times Book Review, July 2, 1995, James Gorman, review of Ironman, p. 13.

Publishers Weekly, May 29, 1987, review of The Crazy Horse Electric Game, p. 79; February 20, 1995, Heather Vogel Frederick, "Chris Crutcher: ‘What's Known Can't Be Unknown’," pp. 183-184; March 12, 2001, review of Whale Talk, p. 91, and Jennifer M. Brown, "PW Talks with Chris Crutcher," p. 92; March 3, 2003, review of King of the Mild Frontier, p. 77; June 6, 2005, review of The Sledding Hill, p. 65.

School Library Journal, May, 1983, Trev Jones, review of Running Loose, p. 80; May, 1986, Jerry Flack, review of Stotan!, p. 100; September, 1991, Todd Morning, review of Athletic Shorts, p. 278; September, 1992, Mike Printz, review of The Deep End, p. 189; March, 1995, Tom S. Hurlburt, review of Ironman, p. 222; June, 2000, Betty Carter, "Eyes Wide Open" (interview), pp. 42-45; April, 2003, Joel Shoemaker, review of King of the Mild Frontier, p. 176.

Spokesman-Review (Spokane, WA), January 21, 2008, Pia K. Hansen, "Writer's Young-adult Books Tackle Tough Issues."

Voice of Youth Advocates, April, 1983, Mary K. Chelton, review of Running Loose, p. 36; April, 1986, Mary K. Chelton, review of Stotan!, p. 29; June, 1987, Pam Spencer, review of The Crazy Horse Electric Game, p. 76; June, 1989, Randy Brough, review of Chinese Handcuffs, p. 98; April, 1992, Sue Krumbein, review of Athletic Shorts, p. 26; August, 1993, Susan R. Farber, review of Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, p. 150.

ONLINE

Chris Crutcher Home Page,http://www.chriscrutcher.com (December 15, 2008).

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Crutcher, Chris 1946- (Christopher C. Crutcher)

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