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Christopher Paul Curtis
Curtis in 2014
Curtis in 2014
Born May 10, 1953 (1953-05-10) (age 69)
Flint, Michigan, USA
Occupation Writer, speaker
Alma mater University of Michigan–Flint
Period 1995–present
Genre Children's literature, especially historical fiction
Notable works
Notable awards Newbery Medal
2000

Christopher Paul Curtis (born May 10, 1953) is an American children's books author. He is known for the Newbery Medal-winning Bud, Not Buddy and The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963. The latter was adapted for a TV movie of the same name, which aired on the Hallmark Channel in 2013.

Biography

Christopher Paul Curtis was born in Flint, Michigan, on May 10, 1953, to Dr. Herman Elmer Curtis, a chiropodist and factory worker/supervisor, and Leslie Jane Curtis, an educator.

Curtis attended Dewey Elementary, Clark Elementary, Pierce Elementary (in the Academically Gifted Program), Whittier Junior High School, and McKinley Junior High School of the Flint Public School System. In 1967, he was the first African-American student to be elected to the student council in the school's 32-year history. He graduated from Flint Southwestern High School in 1972 at the age of 19. Returning to college after working for years, he graduated from the University of Michigan–Flint in 2000.

The summer after graduating from high school, Curtis became a member of a Lansing-based theatrical/musical group called Suitcase Theater. The group was directed by Powell Lindsay and performed musical numbers and the works of Langston Hughes. The group performed in Great Britain, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, France, Canada, and the United States.

Work and writing career

Curtis spent 13 years after high school working on the assembly line of Flint's Fisher Body Plant #1. His job entailed hanging car doors on Electra 225s and LeSabres. He later claimed his experience left him with an aversion to getting into large cars, particularly Buicks. After quitting Fisher Body, he took a series of low-paying jobs. He worked as a groundskeeper at Stonegate Manor housing cooperative in Flint, served as the Flint campaign co-manager for United States Senator Donald Riegle, as customer service representative for Mich Con in Detroit, a temporary worker for Manpower in Detroit, and warehouse clerk for Automated Data Processing in Allen Park, Michigan.

He started writing children's books, publishing his first book in 1995. Many of his books are set in Flint. In 2000, he became the first African-American man to win the Newbery Medal.

Published books

  • The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963 (1995) – When Kenny Watson's older brother, Byron, gets to be too much trouble, the Watsons head from Flint, Michigan, to Birmingham, Alabama, to visit Grandma Sands, the one person who can shape Byron up. But the events that shake Birmingham in the summer of 1963 will change Kenny's life forever. The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963 was a runner-up for the Newbery Medal and was selected as a top book of the year by many publications and organizations. In 2013, it was named as one of the New York Public Library’s 100 Great Children's Books of the Last 100 Years.
  • Bud, Not Buddy (1999) – It is 1936 in Flint, Michigan. Times may be hard, and ten-year-old Bud may be a motherless boy on the run, but he has a few things going for him. Bud goes to find who he believes is his father, a man named Herman E. Calloway. He meets a few friends on the way, and stays determined to achieve his goals. Curtis modeled characters in Bud, Not Buddy after his two grandfathers: Earl "Lefty" Lewis, a Negro league baseball pitcher, and Herman E. Curtis, leader of Herman Curtis and the Dusky Devastators during the Great Depression. Bud, Not Buddy won the 2000 Newbery Medal. It also won the Coretta Scott King Award, and was chosen as the best book of the year by the School Library Journal.
  • Bucking the Sarge (2004) – Luther T. Farrell has got to get out of Flint, Michigan. He just needs to escape the evil empire of the local slumlord, "The Sarge", aka his mother. Bucking the Sarge was selected as one of the best children's books of the year by various publications and organizations, including Publishers Weekly.
  • Mr. Chickee's Funny Money (2005) – Mr. Chickeesaw, the genial blind man in the neighborhood, gives 9-year-old Steven a mysterious bill with 15 zeros on it and the image of a familiar but startling face. Mr. Chickee's Funny Money was a Parents' Choice Award winner.
  • Mr. Chickee's Messy Mission (2007) – When Russell's dog, Rodney Rodent, jumps into a mural to chase a demonic-looking gnome and disappears, the Flint Future Detectives are on the case.
  • Elijah of Buxton (2007) – A story based on the historic settlement of North Buxton, Ontario, developed for and by former African-American slaves who escaped to Canada on the Underground Railroad. In Canada they were known as Negro refugees. Elijah of Buxton was a runner-up for the Newbery Medal and won the Coretta Scott King Award among other awards.
  • The Mighty Miss Malone (2012) – This book is set in Depression-era Gary, Indiana, and Flint, Michigan. The work is a spin-off from Bud, Not Buddy.
  • The Madman of Piney Woods (October 2014) – This book returns readers to Buxton, Ontario, this time in 1901. It is told in alternating chapters, by two twelve-year-old boys. Alvin "Red" Stockard is an Irish boy living in nearby Chatham, Ontario, and Benjamin "Benji" Alston, is a Black Canadian boy who lives in the settlement of Buxton; he is a descendant of African-American slaves who reached freedom in Canada via the Underground Railroad. Several characters from Elijah of Buxton make brief appearances in this work.
  • The Journey of Little Charlie (January 2018) — The third book in Curtis's Buxton Trilogy, this begins on a plantation in South Carolina in 1858, where a 12-year-old boy helps the overseer recapture an escaped slave. He goes to Canada with a party trying to recapture a slave boy, and they are prevented by a resisting group of African Americans in Buxton. It was a finalist for the 2018 National Book Award for Young People's Literature.

Curtis also edited Bites: Scary Stories to Sink Your Teeth Into, a collection of scary children's stories published in 2010 by Scholastic.

Awards and honors

The Watsons Go to Birmingham
  • Coretta Scott King Honor Book
  • Newbery Honor Book
  • Jane Addams Peace Award Honor Book
Bud, Not Buddy
  • Newbery Medal winner
  • Coretta Scott King Author Award
  • Young Reader's Choice Award
  • SCBWI Golden Kite Award winner
Mr. Chickee's Funny Money
  • Parent's Choice Gold Award winner
Bucking the Sarge
  • SCBWI Golden Kite Award for Fiction Honor Book
Elijah of Buxton
  • Newbery Honor Book
  • Coretta Scott King Award winner
  • Scott O'Dell Award
  • Canadian Library Association Book of the Year
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