Press Release - Detail
Contact: Chanda Temple, Director of Public Relations
Birmingham Public Library
Phone: (205) 444-9279 (cell)
Author of “The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963’’ to Have Book Signing at the Birmingham Public Library on Tuesday, Oct. 8
BIRMINGHAM, ALABAMA – Author Christopher Paul Curtis feels comfortable in a library. It’s where he’s written many of his books, including his first one, “The Watsons Go to Birmingham - 1963,’’ which has won numerous awards and was made into a television movie this year.
On Tuesday, Oct. 8, he will visit the Birmingham Public Library. But it won’t be to work on his next novel. It will be to sign copies and answer questions about “The Watsons Go to Birmingham - 1963’’ from 3 to 5 p.m. in the library’s second floor Story Castle, 2100 Park Place. The event is made possible by Alabama Public Television.
“Alabama Public Television is pleased to provide the opportunity for Birmingham library patrons and local students to visit and share ideas with award-winning author Christopher Paul Curtis,’’ says Kathy Heiman, education specialist at APT.
Curtis, 60, took a year off from unloading trucks in a Michigan warehouse in 1993 to write the fictional book, which looks at a family’s trip from Flint, Mich. to Birmingham at the height of the civil rights movement. The Sept. 15, 1963 bombing of Birmingham’s Sixteenth Street Baptist Church is featured in the book, which is currently being read by more than 2,000 Birmingham City Schools’ fourth graders this fall. The book addresses bullying, family ties and more.
Originally, he had written that the Watsons took a trip to Florida. But when they got to Florida, nothing happened. He knew there had to be more to the story. He later discovered Detroit poet Dudley Randall’s “The Ballad of Birmingham,’’ a poem about the church bombing. Once Curtis saw the poem, he knew Birmingham was where the Watsons needed to go.
“I’m glad I did...,’’ he says. “If I let them go to Florida, I can guarantee you wouldn’t be talking to me right now. I would be unloading trucks in a warehouse.’’
Once Curtis finished writing the book, he returned to the warehouse in 1995 and submitted the book to two publishers. The first publisher rejected it, telling him that while she felt the characters were funny and well-developed, she didn’t feel that the story would resonate with young readers.
The second publisher, Random House, accepted it. Rejection from the first publisher showed Curtis that that was just one person’s opinion and he couldn’t let it defeat him. Today, 2.6 million copies of “The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963’’ have been sold and copies of the movie, which aired on the Hallmark Channel on Sept. 20, 2013 are now sold in WalMart. “If I see her (the first publisher,) I’m going to go ‘nanh nah naahhh nah,’ ’’ laughs Curtis, who no longer works in the warehouse. He is married with children, lives in Detroit and is awaiting the 2014 release of his eighth book.
Here, he offers some of his views about the book and writing:
Where he got his characters:
All the characters are composites. They are a little bit of Curtis, his brother, his sisters and some of parents. A lot of the things in the book happened to Curtis or to friends. He was considered the smart kid in school and was bullied.
Why he uses his whole name as an author:
When he started writing, he researched to see if anyone else had his name. A man named Christopher Curtis had written the 1979 book “Be Your Own Chimney Sweep.’’ He added his middle name Paul to separate himself from the other Curtis.
The story behind the book’s Wool Pooh image:
The character Kenny fights off the “Wool Pooh,’’ a symbol of death, while trying to keep from drowning. Its description of having square toes is a nod to Zora Neal Hurston’s “Their Eyes Were Watching God,’’ one of Curtis’ favorite novels. “I never came close to drowning..., but I imagined what it would be like,’’ he says.
Why he never takes writing for granted:
He worked in a car factory for 13 years in Flint, Mich., and worked another four or five years hauling garbage, mowing lawns, being a maintenance worker and working on a senator’s campaign. “I know what real work is and I know how lucky I am,’’ he says.
His three tips for writers:
Be persistent, be dedicated and have fun writing.
How to handle self-doubt, especially in writing:
It’s always going to be there, but it’s a good thing. It keeps you on your toes. Through time and experience, you learn what’s good and what isn’t.
Has anyone asked him to do a Part 2 to “The Watsons...’’?
“I don’t’ think I would. The Watsons have been through enough. I’m going to leave them alone,’’ he says.