'Bud, Not Buddy' author to visit Southeast Seattle

Christopher Paul Curtis, the author of award-winning children's novel "Bud, Not Buddy" will be in the South End this week to speak to residents and to view Book-It Repertory Theatre's stage adaptation of his story at the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Center

Additionally, Curtis will appear at Aki Kurose Middle School as well as at a free public event at the Seattle Public Library's downtown branch on Jan. 20. He will also meet guests and share parts of some unreleased work at a Jan. 21 fundraiser for Book-It's educational arm.

On his current speaking tour, Curtis talks about his life, including a 13-year stint at an automobile factory. Kay, his wife, whom he said has always had faith in his writing, encouraged him to take time off to pen his first novel. Though it was, according to Curtis, "very scary" to lose his share of the family income, they saved up enough money for him to write for a year.

Curtis tackled his writing job with the discipline he found during his time working in the auto factory. Years after quitting that job, he still rises every morning at 5 a.m. and gets to work.

"I don't like getting up that early!" he lamented during a recent phone interview. "But after the factory, it's a habit I can't break."

First thing in the morning, Curtis heads to the library to edit the work he wrote the previous day. Then it's time for several more hours of creative writing, during which he likes to "just let the story go where it wants to," he explained.

The Curtis family's faith and risk paid off. Curtis has published four books and won numerous honors, including the Newbery and Coretta Scott King awards, and developed a large fan base of students and educators.

Fans of Curtis' writing will be glad to know he has two new books in the works. "Mr. Chickee's Messy Mission," a continuation of the previously released "Mr. Chickee's Funny Money," is currently in the editing phase. He described it as a "light book with a fantasy tilt."

His second work-in-progress is "Elijah of Buxton," which is set in the 1850s and focuses on a boy whose parents settled in a Canadian town with 2,000 fellow escaped slaves. The author said he hopes to create a series based on the "utopian" town of Buxton, which is about 40 miles from his Windsor home.

While growing up, Curtis loved reading but seldom encountered books "that were about me." While he was quick to say he doesn't think "black children should read only 'black' books and white children 'white' books," Curtis is happy to be an African-American author telling stories that are based on his own history and experiences.

Two of the characters in "Bud, Not Buddy" are based on Curtis' grandfathers. The novel follows a motherless and impoverished African-American 10-year-old who sets off to find his father, whom he's never met.

Curtis hopes readers draw parallels between the book's Great Depression setting and still-existing social injustices of today.

"Any kind of historical fiction is relevant," Curtis asserted. "It helps you to view the world through a different lens."

Ideally, Curtis hopes his novels will spark students' curiosity and encourage them to research topics like the Great Depression and the American civil rights movement. First and foremost, however, the author aims to entertain.

"I want readers to have fun reading my work. I will settle for that," Curtis said. "Drawing lessons is secondary."

Curtis expressed a similar wish for Seattleites viewing the stage version of "Bud, Not Buddy."

"I just hope people enjoy it!" he exclaimed.

Book-It's workshop performance of "Bud, Not Buddy" runs through Jan. 22. For more information about the play or fundraiser, please visit www.book-it.org.

To learn more about Curtis' free speaking engagement, go to www.spl.org.

Denise Miller may be reached via editor@sdistrictjournal.com.

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