That time I met Chris Crutcher and sobbed like a teenage girl who had just met R Patz
|Gratituous Duran Druan Pic
SAT Question: Duran Duran is to Teenage Karen
as what author is to Librarian Karen?
When I was in High School, I went with my two best friends to see the love of our lives in concert: Duran Duran. I remember when the show was over we sat there and all of the sudden – I started hyperventilating. My best friend Teri reached over and slapped me. It wasn’t that bad, but after meeting Chris Crutcher, I did get into my car, call The Mr. and start sobbing. I had just met Chris Crutcher!!
How it Came to Be
I work part-time as the teen librarian with a lady who works during the day as a High School Spanish teacher in a different school district. She looked at one day and said that Chris Crutcher was coming to her school. I apparently yelled and then begged her to let me come. Not only did I get to go, but they invited me to lunch and I sat right next to Chris Crutcher. Many of you will recall that Chris Crutcher is listed as one of my favorite authors on my bio here; I have even written a Why YA? piece on Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes. And at lunch, I didn’t ask Chris one single good question. Susan made me swear not to embarrass her. We did, however, all talk about Stephen King’s 11/22/63 and it was interesting to hear my writer hero gush over another writer. Crutcher called this book a lesson in master plotting. It was clear that he loved this book and admired the writing. (And yes, I really did take my Star Wars lunch box to eat lunch with Chris Crutcher.)
Chris Crutcher Speaks
Although I wrote about Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes as my Why YA? post, it is probably more correct to say that Whale Talk is my favorite Chris Crutcher book and probably in my top 10 favorite books of all time. So it was a great pleasure of mine to hear Crutcher speak about the writing of this book.
As many of you know, Chris Crutcher has spent much of his life working with “troubled” kids and teens, including doing some play therapy with foster children. It is here, working with Head Start, that Crutcher met the 5-year-old girl who would become a part of the heart and soul that is Whale Talk. It was so great to hear and be reminded that there are people out there every day being a champion to children. As Crutcher talked about the importance of gaining reader’s trust and telling their stories authentically, I was reminded once again about the importance of realistic fiction that really reaches into the hearts of my teens and not only shakes them to the core, but reminds them that they are not alone.
When referring to the use of language in his books, Crutcher reminded us all that cussing is “the language of desperation” and our teens use it, and he must use it, to show us all how desperate they are for love and acceptance.
As Crutcher worked with this little girl, he saw how she was tired and weary from having to audition for a place to live, until he helped her find that place where she belonged. Years later he ran into her again and she gave him permission to tell her story because she wanted to tell her secrets so that others could “read a story and know you’re not alone.” As Crutcher said, “If I back off the language, I back off the step dad. If I back off the meanness of the step dad, I back off the heroism of this little girl.” I am going to be completely honest; I had no idea there were any real people in Whale Talk, but I respect Crutcher even more (is that even possible?) for his desire and commitment to this little girl and to make sure her story is heard authentically so that is can touch the heart of everyone who reads it.
The Socratic Seminar
The next portion of Chris Crutcher’s visit involved the Avid students joining on stage to participate in a Socratic Seminar on the book Deadline. Here, the students presented questions and discussed them in front of their peers – and Chris Crutcher. I so admired both their courage and the intellect which they brought to this discussion. Let me just give you a taste of the questions that they asked and the discussion that followed . . .
Why did Ben keep his illness a secret?
He didn’t want to be treated any differently; He didn’t want to worry his family
How would this story be different if he told his parents that he was ill?
They would try and take control and make him get treatment; He would lose that freedom to direct his final year of life
How would you react if you were in Marla’s position? (Marla is Ben’s psychologist)
Some felt they would try and find a way to tell his parents and others said they would respect the client confidentiality.
What is the theme of Deadline?
Crutcher: The unpredictability of life and the nature of courage
Teens: The importance of experiencing new things, not taking life for granted, living your life with no regrets
Would the story be the same if it was not about a teen or about a small population area? (The population in the book is 943)
Here the teens had a good conversation about how quickly secrets can spread but about how hard it is to know about and care about people in larger population area.
Final thoughts (Reflections)
Impending death creates such a sense of urgency, whereas before you might have thought you had a lot of time to be who you wanted to be and do the things you wanted to do – Chris Crutcher
Teens: pressured to leave a good impression in life so other can follow in my footsteps; I would want to make peace
Find out more about Socratic Seminars here
You can view a YouTube video about hosting a Socratic Seminar here
Chris Crutcher: “I can only tell you what it means to me”
In his closing address, Crutcher answered teen questions about being a writer – how he became one, why he does it and the always popular question, how do you do it.
On writing Crutcher says:
- Read a lot
- Write stuff down (feelings that you feel, things that you see)
- Don’t let people tell you that you can’t do it
In the end, Crutcher says, it is all about “connection” – We’re all in a continuum. We all have some thing in common. We all have a history and a future. We know our history but our future is unknown.
Some final thoughts from Crutcher
“What kind of footprint do you want to leave?”
“Tell the best story and let it fall wherever it may”
“I can’t tell you what a book means. I can only tell you what a book means to me. What you take away for it is yours. The response is yours to own.”
“I try to make me characters lives as intimate as possible. Then it falls into readers hands and it becomes a new story.”
I was so impressed to see these teens talking about Deadline and engaging in this Socratic seminar. They were so thoughtful in their response and wiser then we ever give them credit for. It is moments like these that remind us all why we do what we do; these teens are not only our future, they are our here and now and they need champions like Chris Crutcher (and teachers and librarians) to allow them to live their lives authentically, wherever they may be.
As I walked out of the building, I began to cry. It was such an inspiring day. And – oh yeah – I got to meet one of my heroes!!
P.S. I have since seen Duran Duran in concert 4 times and although I don’t hyperventilate anymore, they are some awesome memories. Hi Beth and M.
What’s your favorite Chris Crutcher book and why? Tell us in the comments.
Postscript: So I said to one of the HS girls, “I just love Chris Crutcher.” And she replied to me, “I know what you mean, I really love One Direction.” Your turn: Who was your childhood/teenagedom hyperventilating favorite band? And what author would make you go to your car and sob if you met them?
Filed under: Chris Crutcher
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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