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SCRIBE: Christopher Paul Curtis

Perhaps you’ve seen him. He’sthe big guy with a head full of dark skinny braids. And he’s writing at a table in the kids’ section of the downtown Windsor public library.

"The energy just felt right in the library," explains Christopher Paul Curtis, author of award-winning The Watsons Go to Birmingham– 1963 and Bud, Not Buddy.

"I felt comfortable sitting there. It’s too quiet upstairs in my house. I need a bit of distraction and hustle and bustle, so I go to the library and sit down, and after awhile, it’s like I’m taking dictation from the voices of my characters. I’m almost in a trance. I laugh, I’m having a jolly good time."

Curtis admits that his work leans towards the semi autobiographical. "I think writers pull in so many different things that happen to them or other people."

A chapter in The Watsons called "Nazi Para-chutes Attack America and Get Shot Down by Byron Watson and his Flamethrower of Death" is based on Curtis’s childhood fascination with fire. And, his little sister really did "save" him by spitting on matches lit by his mother who wanted to teach him a lesson.

Curtis, born and raised in Flint, Michigan, moved with his wife Kay, a nurse he met in Hamilton, to Windsor in 1985. Kay recognized Curtis’s gift for writing during their long distance courtship when he wrote her almost daily. Seven years ago, Kay told him she would support him if he took a year off to write.

His first book was originally called "The Watsons Go to Florida," but after hearing a poem about the church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963 in which four black girls died, Curtis decided to change the book.

"When I had the Watsons arrive in Florida to visit relatives, the book didn’t have anywhere to go," he says. "With the Watsons travelling to see relatives in Birmingham in the summer before the bombing, the book suddenly had a focus. It made the book."

In 1995, Curtis submitted the book to a couple of publishing contests. He didn’t win but he did receive a publishing offer.

"Everything goes in slow motion when you get published," says Curtis. "I was working in a warehouse in Flint at the time. After a year and a half the critics got a hold of the book and then I started getting speaking engagements. I made more giving one speech than I would in a week at the warehouse, so I quit."

The book was named a Newberry Honor Book and a Corretta Scott King Honor Book in 1996. His next book, "Bud, Not Buddy," about a street-wise ten-year-old Flint boy who decides to walk to grand Rapids to find his father, whom he’s never met but is sure is musician Herman E. Calloway, was the first-place winner of both awards in 2000.

Curtis, who says that while he wasn’t a book worm as a kid, "I was always reading magazines, especially ‘Mad’ and ‘National Geographic’."

These days, he’s graduated to reading books and enjoys among others, the novels of Toni Morrison and the books of Jim Thompson, a crime writer from the fifties, who wrote "The Grifters."

Curtis’s third book will be published later this year.

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