Bizness stuff: Tomorrow at 4pm, at the 96th St Library in NYC, Nina Malkin & I will be discussing banned books & talking about Americus. Come listen to us, because I fear crickets and their audible chirps!

Also, win free books! They will go to the best comments of commenters this week. Which books? Blankets, A Wrinkle In Time, The Adventures of Huck Finn, and more!

Awesome stuff: a brief interview with Chris Crutcher!

Chris Crutcher is a family therapist and YA author who has 8 of his 11 novels on the ALA’s Best Books For Young Adults list. Because of his audacity to have teenaged kids swear and show the usual amount of respect for authority, Crutcher has seen more than a few book challenges, which he has constantly stood up against & even devoted a novel to (The Sledding Hill). As a teen of the late 90′s I would be in remiss if I didn’t mention his short story, “A Brief Moment in the Life of Angus Bethune,” the basis for the movie Angus.

First: Chris, why do you swear so much? By which I mean, why do you think it’s important to allow purient language in literature?

I swear so much because I was raised in a fairly remote logging town where the weekend fun was to go downtown and wait outside the bars for the loggers and ranchers to get drunk and kick hell out of each other. Then I spent ten years running an alternative school in Oakland, CA and then another twenty or so listening to child abuse and neglect stories, often from those who were doing the abuse. That language doesn’t even blip my radar. I think it’s important to allow that language into literature because it lends reality. It’s the language of rage, it’s the language of pushing against authority (something every healthy adolescent does as a normal part of development) and it’s the language of hopelessness. Sometimes it’s the language of humor. My father used to tell me that using it showed a deficiency of vocabulary, but I figured you could build a great vocabulary and then make it bigger with those words. That was an interesting discussion.

How long have you been fighting challenges to your books, and at what point did you begin to focus on speaking out against these challeges?

I started speaking out against them when they started happening, which was with my first book, Running Loose. I didn’t have much of a voice then because I only had one book out and no one had heard of me. My capacity to speak out increased with the popularity of my books. I still ain’t Stephen King.

How do you explain to concerned parents why you write about challenging topics?

I tell them that even if their children haven’t had the experiences of the characters I create, they’re sitting in classrooms with kids who have, and the more we know what other people’s lives are like the better chance we have of building a sense of compassion and understanding for them. No one ever got hurt learning about other people’s troubles. I also tell them that I’ve never met a kid to whom i was able to get close, who hasn’t at some time in his or her life felt lonely and desperate. The kids in my stories have the same feelings as kids in the world. I tell parents they can learn a lot about their children by reading those books with them and getting conversations going. If they do that in a non-judgmental way they will learn some truths about those kids they wouldn’t otherwise be privy to. I can’t think of the issue that is better not talked about.

Do you have any favorite stories of students speaking out for themselves that have come out of attempts to ban your books?

I have lots of those stories. Hundreds. The one I remember right off the top of my head is the silent kid from a town outside Detroit; blank stare, too-small, hand-me-down clothes…. waited and waited to get me alone at the end of the day just to tell me he had spoken in front of the school board to save Whale Talk. The school librarian said it was the only time she had ever seen him empowered, and she was so proud. Because she told me ahead of time, I was able to take the time to let him know how much I appreciated that… that I knew how scary it must have been.