Author Chris Crutcher spoke to the Kids’ Right to Read Project about his experience as one of the most challenged authors of all time. For a detailed look at Chris Crutcher’s work and challenges click here.
Kids’ Right to Read Project: Your books are widely acclaimed and are well regarded by readers everywhere. How does it feel for those same books to have appeared at the center of numerous censorship controversies?
Chris Crutcher: Actually it doesn’t bother me much. Mostly I look at who wants them banned and I recognize the differences between the way I think and the way they think. Then I figure, of course they want them banned. The writing goes against their inflexible philosophies. If I weren’t irritating these people I wouldn’t be telling “true” stories.
KRRP: Early on in your career, did you anticipate any challenges against your books? How has that changed over time with experience?
CC: My first book got me into USA Today on the top ten list for challenged books, so I got used to the process early. I’ve always been somewhat unconventional and truth is, I like a good fight – especially when I think I’m right. I had been working with kids – mostly teenagers – for a while, and I knew I was on the right track. The challenges have gotten more organized since then, and they can be pretty vicious sometimes; that’s the biggest change.
KKRP: What is important about the so-called controversial parts of your books? What role do those excerpts play developing your narrative as a whole?
CC: Some of them are just about language. If I tell a tough story in its native tongue, certain people get offended, but that language plays to realism. The issues I choose to include are integral to the story. Always. Quite often it is the issues that really get under people’s skins. But if you leave those pieces out, your story isn’t real.
KRRP: Challenges against your books have been raised over numerous “themes” and issues.” Some commentators have identified efforts to ban “pro-gay literature” as an increasing trend. Would you like to comment on this?
CC: The “gay issue” is particularly interesting to me. There are openly gay writers who write about growing up in that shroud of secrecy and the damage it does (and I know it does that damage from the number of gay kids I’ve worked with in therapy). My gay characters are usually in the story to get a reaction out of the main character; get him to look at his own bigotry. Roughly ten percent of the population is gay and I think that’s probably true of my characters. Yet I put a gay character in a book and I’m accused of “recruiting”. The censors automatically decide I’m gay and that I write from the “gay agenda.” Usually I won’t tell them whether I am or not, because if I were I would hope I’d have brought myself up to speed by now, and I don’t care if they think I’m gay because it’s like caring if they knew whether or not I’m left-handed. (Same percentage). Look, being anti gay is bigotry, pure and simple, and in ten or twenty years, the loud voices against homosexuality are going to look as stupid as the anti-black voices of our early history.
KRRP: How have you responded to challenges over the years? How has you approach differed? What have you found to be successful?
CC: I’ve always answered each challenge when I know about it and when a teacher or librarian wants the author’s words about why he or she wrote what they did. A number of times I’ve been in the same area where the book has been challenged and I’ve gone to meetings to answer people’s questions. If a book does get banned in a school I send five copies of that book to the nearest public library and write the newspaper to let them know I did it. (You can’t really ban a book, you can just get it out of the school.) In my later years I’ve written more about it and been willing to get out in front of the public in any way I can to stand up against censorship. But mostly it’s just been a matter of degree.
KRRP: What do you hope librarians, teachers and school administrators take away from the controversy over your books?
CC: I hope they are forced to listen to the kids and open up dialogue. That’s what this is all about. Most of the things people worry about in my books are harmless – in fact they all are. But we need to be able to talk with kids and they need to be able to talk with us, and story is one of the best ways to get that happening. It provides a level playing field, where all opinions hold the same weight.
KRRP: What have been the responses you’ve received about yours books from youth who have read it?
CC: I’m not sure which book you’re talking about here, but the responses to all of them have been the same. There have been very few kids who wrote and told me there was something damaging to them in the book, and all of those have come from kids with a Christian agenda. Overwhelmingly kids emails have said the book touched them in some way that changed their thinking, or that it was exciting, or that it spoke to them. A few have said they felt like they had been bullies and wanted to look at that. I’m aware that kids who don’t like books are far less likely to write, but those have been the responses.
KRRP: What would you like youth to know about books that have been challenged or banned?
CC: That they aren’t really banned. They can get them at the library or the bookstore or Amazon.com. This is America.
KRRP: What advice would you give to fellow authors facing censorship controversies?
CC: Hit it loud and clear. Never be intimidated. The loud voices for censorship actually represent a very small number of people. Judge yourself by your enemies as much as you judge yourself by your friends.