Photo courtesy of the author
Christopher Paul Curtis talks about making history real for young readers. [34:01]
Christopher Paul Curtis: I started writing professionally by entering contests through Random House. I didn't win the contest. But they published the book "The Watson's Go to Birmingham." I'd taken a year off work. And decided to try to write a book. I'd go to the Windsor Public Library. And in a rare burst of good judgment on my part, I said to myself, "This is not a vacation that you're taking from work. You have to take this very seriously. This is a job." So I had been working in a warehouse unloading trucks at that time. And went to work every day and respected my boss. I was my own boss now, so I had to give myself the same respect. Would go every day and write. Ended up with the manuscript. Finally got it published. And started writing books. You know, young people say to me a lot, "Well, how do I get started writing?" I tell them, "You have to be patient, number one. Because writing is one of the few arts where we don't have prodigies. It's something that you have to live for a while." And I was in my early 40's when the first book came out. So it was the right time for things to happen for me that way.
Jo Reed: That’s Michigan author Christopher Paul Curtis.
Welcome to Art Works, the program that goes behind the scenes with some of the nation's great artists to explore how Art Works.
I'm your host Josephine Reed.
Christopher Paul Curtis is known for writing historical fiction for young adults that center on African-American families and tackle tough issues with humor and honesty. His first book, The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963 tells the story of 10-year-old Kenny his family and the journey that leads them into one of the darkest moments in American history. It is by turns a hilarious, touching, and tragic story about civil rights and the impact of violence on a community. It racked up a slew of awards including honorable mention from both the Newbury Medal and the Coretta Scott King Award. Curtis followed that up with Bud, Not Buddy which is set in 1936 Flint, Michigan and focuses on 10-year-old orphan Bud Caldwell, who hits the road in search of family. Contrary to famous second book crashes, Bud Not Buddy surpassed the praise and prizes heaped upon the Watsons, and in fact, became the first book ever to receive both the Newbery Medal and the Coretta Scott King Award. Well, Curtis keeps writing and the accolades keep flying. He recently published his seventh novel "The Mighty Miss Malone." Set in the Great Depression, "The Mighty Miss Malone" tells the story of Deza, who's the smartest girl in her Gary, Indiana class, and who feels destined for greatness. But the depression has hit the town hard, and African-Americans hardest of all. Once again, Curtis blends fact with fiction to create an unforgettable portrait of a brave young kid caught in a societal calamity. And, it was also the first time Curtis has a girl as his protagonist. I spoke with Christopher Paul Curtis recently and asked him about Deza Malone, and his decision finally to put a girl at the center of the story.
Jo Reed: As you know I do a lot of school visits. Inevitably, I'm asked by a girl, "Why don't you do a book about a girl?" I’m always hesitant about doing it. So I finally decided, okay, let me give it a try. And Deza seemed like a natural choice because she was in Bud, Not Buddy. A very small part Bud, Not Buddy. And I knew who she was. So it was easy for me to connect with her again. And to when I started writing the story, I started with a scene in the Hooverville, with Bud. And it grew it from- from that. From either side from-- that w-- turned out to be the middle of the book.
Jo Reed: Well, give us a thumbnail sketch of the plot of "The Mighty Miss Malone."
Christopher Paul Curtis: It's a story of the Malone family, a family who is on a journey to a place called Wonderful. Takes place during the Great Depression in Gary, Indiana. The father works in the Gary steel mills. But as Black workers did in the '30s, they had very few jobs that they could take. One of them was janitor. And then, there was another job, that Black and Mexican workers had where the furnaces would get so hot that they would damage the bricks that were inside the furnace and they had to be replaced. It wasn't cost efficient for them to cool the furnaces all the way down. So they would cool them down a little bit. Then, they'd put wooden planks on the floor. And they would send Black and Mexican workers in to pull the bricks. And it was a horribly brutal job. And people couldn't do it for very long. Because it became so hot in there that you would pass out. So it was so hot that the planks that they put on the floor often caught on fire. So Deza's father did this. He has breathing problems. He has asthma. And so he couldn't do the job. He was pretty much laid off, looking for work. In 1936, of course, there's not much. Deza's mother works for a banker in Gary, as a housekeeper. Deza's brother is a little boy named Jimmy. And Jimmy is 15 years old and suffers from something called Kallmann Syndrome. And it's a syndrome where little boys, particularly, don't age past 12. They don't mature past 12. Their bodies never mature past 12. So they can live to be in their 80s or 90s. But they still have these 12-year-old boy bodies and Jimmy has a beautiful soprano singing voice. Since he hasn't aged any, he's got this very young voice. Deza herself, as I said, wants to be a teacher. She just knows that she's got to do more. She's in love with books. She immerses herself in books. And the father has decided that their family needed to have a motto. And that motto was, "We're a family on a trip to wonderful, on a journey to a place called wonderful." And that is really the basis of the story. It tells about the Malone's trip to Wonderful.
Jo Reed: And it's quite a bumpy ride.
Christopher Paul Curtis: It is. There are a lot of detours.
Jo Reed: There's a lot of detours along the way. As you said, the depression certainly hit African-Americans harder. And it was hitting everybody hard enough. So one can imagine. And what was so clear was having so little room for negotiation, so little room for, not even a catastrophe. But, you know, an accident can just set the whole economic structure of the family completely askew.
Christopher Paul Curtis: Exactly. And the thing that really surprised me as I was doing research for this, is how much it is reflected in the situations of so many families today. People are one paycheck away from disaster from absolute poverty. And if something happens and the breadwinner loses their job, a lot of times, people are just thrown into abject poverty. And this is something that happened with the Malone's. The father went on a fishing trip. And there was an accident. And he was unable to work. He decides to go back to Flint. He's from Flint, Michigan. He goes back to Flint to try to find work. They don't hear anything from him for the longest time. And they become very worried about him. And this is something that happens now. People travel to find jobs in new places.
Jo Reed: Families are separated.
Christopher Paul Curtis: Families are torn apart by poverty and by the fact that one member cannot work. It's a tragedy that was taking place back during the Great Depression. And it's probably even a bigger tragedy now. Because we've had so much time go by. And it seems as though we could've done something in the meantime to protect people from having this happen.
Jo Reed: Well, you're living in Detroit, which is one of the cities that has been hit so hard by the current depression.
Christopher Paul Curtis: Brutally hard. Detroit is-- has been hit brutally hard. There are 80,000 abandoned houses in Detroit. And as you can imagine, the income tax base has gone down to a very small number. And the city is in trouble all the time, economically. So yeah, it's Detroit, Flint, my hometown, Gary, all the Rust Belt cities, really, are in the same situation. Where they're nowhere near what they used to be. And it doesn't appear as though there's an easy way out.
Jo Reed: In your forward, you do reference the current economic situation. Why did you decide to do that?
Christopher Paul Curtis: One of the reasons, Jo, was that I watch a lot of news on television. You know, and I watch it on the news shows. And I'm constantly angered at the fact that we are given a picture of poverty that is not true. So often, the people that the face of poverty that we get is somebody who's a scam artist, somebody who has done something to deserve to be poor. And the statistics tell us that most of the poor people are children. So one of the things that I wanted to do was to give the face of poverty to somebody that people could identify with. And it's children like Deza, who are the poor people. They go through things that we can't imagine. So that's one of the things that I really wanted to try to accomplish with the book was to make poverty have a face. And hopefully, Deza is the face of poverty.
Jo Reed: Tell me, then, why set it in the Great Depression, as opposed to setting it in the current one?
Christopher Paul Curtis: I really don't know. It you know, when- when I sit down to write the story, the character comes to me. Lots of times, I have plans for the story to go one way. The story decides, "No. I'm not going that way. I'm going this way." And for some reason, the Great Depression seemed to be where the- the story settled. And I- I think that perhaps what we're going through today is too close. It's something that is w- when you talk about poverty, as I said, it engenders a lot of emotions in people and a lot of the negative images. So I think that when it's set back during the Great Depression, the 1930's, it's far enough removed that people aren't saying, "Oh, well, there's this political angle that he's taking here." So by setting it back then, hopefully, it is obvious that the same thing is going on now. But we don't have the immediate emotional rush to whatever it is we want to go to.
Jo Reed: As I was reading the book, I was actually thinking about that. How it's so easy to make people who are poor be “other.”
Christopher Paul Curtis: Exactly.
Jo Reed: And in this book, Deza just is in your heart. And you just can't do that.
Christopher Paul Curtis: Right. And- and that's a good way of putting it. That it's always the other. And I think that people are more open to someone that was poor way back in the 1930's than they are to someone who's poor today, who's in their face, who you don't really want to see. You know, nobody wants to see the poor. And by looking at somebody from the 1930's, I think it's-- people become much more open to try to understand. And hopefully-- and I'm talking in the book mostly to young people whose minds haven't been made up yet. And who- who haven't locked into a particular way of thinking. So that if they can see Deza as somebody that they might be going to school with or somebody they might see on the street, they might recognize the fact that this person's going through something that I'm not going through. Maybe I can help in some way.
Jo Reed: As I was looking through the books that you've written, we'll put Mr. Chickee aside because he's in his own little category. But in Elijah of Buxton and in Bud, Not Buddy and the Watsons Go to Birmingham and The Mighty Miss Malone, you set books in a particular historical period.
Christopher Paul Curtis: Yeah, I do. I enjoy that. I really like to look at a story from the perspective of a young person. And I think that young people look at things so much differently than we do. They are not caught up in it as much as we are. They are in their own worlds. But then, I like to look at the thing from the periphery, really. And through a young person's eyes, I think I can make comments about things. And and not have it be as direct. I really do like the freedom that historical fiction gives me to write about things.
Jo Reed: You know, I also think kids are more interested in history than adults often give them credit for. I don't know about you. But I remember being a kid and sitting down with my grandmother and saying, "Tell me about the old days. I want to hear about the old days."
Christopher Paul Curtis: Well, see I was kind of the opposite. When my grandparents started to talk, I thought, "Oh, God, these stories again." And you were much smarter than I was. That's one of the things I say in one of the books. You need to listen to your grandparents. But I do think that if you can present history in a way that is interesting, and I think what you have to do is you have to the reader has to get to know the character first and get to love the character, hopefully. And then, they invest something in that character. And as they go into the historical event, the Great Depression, or the Civil Rights Movement, or slavery, then, they have some type of investment in what's going to happen. And they look at it as Deza is my friend, or Bud is my friend, or Elijah was my friend. And I can see how they relate to things. And I can see how they felt.
Jo Reed: Now, "The Watsons Go to Birmingham - 1963," the Watsons, in fact, are in Birmingham during that horrible bombing of the church. And at the end of the book, you actually talk about this pretty directly in an epilogue. All of your books have an epilogue, which I'm-- I always look forward to and like very much. Where you, Christopher, address the reader directly, and- and talk about history and the importance of knowing history.
Christopher Paul Curtis: Right. And I feel it gives me a tremendous freedom. Because things that are in the story, I really want to emphasize, I can put them in the afterward, the epilogue. I don't think a lot of times young people read them. But on the off chance that they will. I hope it helps to focus what the story is about and the kind of things that they should be looking for. It's like I'm giving you the candy of the story. Like, here's a little medicine to take at the end. And hopefully, you can take the medicine as well.
Jo Reed: I love that medicine, though.
Christopher Paul Curtis: Oh, I do, too. I think it's an important part of it. I really do.
Jo Reed: Well, you give advice at the end of Bud, Not Buddy. You talk about the connections between characters in "Bud, Not Buddy" and your own grandparents. You had a grandfather who was a Pullman porter.
Christopher Paul Curtis: Um-hum.
Jo Reed: And your other grandfather was in a jazz band. And please say the name, because it's so terrific.
Christopher Paul Curtis: It is, I think, the most brilliant band name ever. In the 1930's my grandfather had a band called "Herman Curtis and the Dusky Devastators of the Depression." How could you not write something about that?
Jo Reed: But you take that opportunity to suggest that readers, young kids, I mean, it doesn't matter. Readers, people, should talk to their elders.
Christopher Paul Curtis: Exactly. Exactly. And I point out the fact that you should be smarter than I was. And when your grandparents want to tell you something, sit and listen. Don't be so excited to go out and play hide and seek. Hide and seek will be there. Your grandparents might not. So that's something that you should take advantage of.
Jo Reed: The singular sub plot of this books is a boxing match between Joe Louis and Max Schmeling.
Christopher Paul Curtis: Right.
Jo Reed: And then, that's what you talk about at the end. You know, you try to get us to see-- and I thought it was fascinating-- how important that fight was. Talk about that.
Christopher Paul Curtis: Well, my father was not the kind of person who would light up when he was telling things. You know, he was a very kind of calm and even person. But I can remember, as a child, him talking about the Joe Louis fight. And he would light up. And I realized he would tell how important it was to the Black community, and to the American community actually, the fight that Joe Louis lost. And how devastating it was. And I wanted to put something of my father in there. And I wanted to tell about the way that the fight was so important. And was really emblematic of kind of a battle between good and evil. And even though it's much more complex than that. Max Schmeling and Joe Louis, you know, the lines are blurry there. But I wanted to have something in there of the enthusiasm and the fire my father felt about that. And it was a feeling that was felt throughout the community. And I don't think we have anything like that now. I don't think there's anything that is the equivalent, no sporting event in particular. But this was actually like the democracy against Nazism. It was something as big as that. And, you know, the United States against Germany. There were so many different things that were coming together in this fight. And it was a very important part of American history. And it was something that in the Great Depression added depression. Because Joe Louis didn't take the fight seriously and lost.
Jo Reed: The first fight.
Christopher Paul Curtis: Lost the first fight. And then, the second fight, he came back. He trained. And Max Schmeling was out in the first round." And it was something that really made an impression on me.
Jo Reed: In part of this book you revisit your hometown of Flint.
Christopher Paul Curtis: Right.
Jo Reed: Tell us about where you grew up in Flint.
Jo Reed: In Gary, Deza has an African-American teacher who cares very deeply about her. When she goes to Flint, it's a very different, very different story there.
Christopher Paul Curtis: Right. And that's historically accurate really. Because Gary had a much larger Black population than Flint did in the 1930s. Flint was, I think, 5 percent Black in the 1930's. It was before the great migration had taken place. There's a- a great book called "The Warmth of Other Suns"...
Jo Reed: Yeah.
Christopher Paul Curtis: That tells about that migration. And this was before that took place. So Flint, we had a very small Black population. Gary, on the other hand, had a larger population, being close to Chicago, as well. So there were Black schools in Gary. In Flint, there were no Black schools. Deza would've gone to a White school, as she did there. And a lot of times Black students were not given a chance. And that's what Deza was exposed to in Flint.
Jo Reed: And she kind of got saved, because she was given two books.
Christopher Paul Curtis: Yeah. A teacher that in the house, kind of a boarding house that she and her mother were staying in, gave her. "The Quest For the Silver Fleece," by W.E.B. Du Bois. And I wanted to have the other book be-- that she was given, be "Their Eyes Were Watching God." But thank goodness for copy editors. There was a woman at Random House named Barb Paris, who said, "Well, you can't do it. It didn't come out 'til later in that year."
Jo Reed: <Laughs>
Christopher Paul Curtis: So I had to choose another book.
Jo Reed: And a book by Nella Larsen...
Christopher Paul Curtis: Nella Larsen's book; right. And I like the idea of the books being something that rescued Deza. Even though she was going through tough times, she could hang onto these books. And- and was floating to the surface by holding these books.
Jo Reed: Well, because she was at such a critical juncture in her life. And she was finally seeing something reflected in a book that she could understand.
Christopher Paul Curtis: Exactly. Deza goes through this thing where she's reading. And a lot of times, there are Black characters in books. But a lot of times, they're stereotypes and...
Jo Reed: Um-hum.
Christopher Paul Curtis: They're just horrible things. And this is something that I would go through, too. I'd read. And you'd know there's a Black character coming. And you think, "Oh, boy. What, you now, what is this gonna be this time?" And I think that with reading "The Quest for the Silver Fleece," she saw Black characters that were people and were not stereotypes. And that was something that kind of really just helped lift her.
Jo Reed: It's really interesting when you talk about Deza's process of reading when she comes across somebody who's described as blonde hair and fair. And how does she process it?
Christopher Paul Curtis: Well, she, Deza, is a reader. And that means she delves deep into the book. The book grabs a hold of her. And she's feeling everything in the book. And she's right there with the author. And then, she comes to a point where they say, the blonde hair or the blue eyes. And Deza has realized she can do one of several things. She can just pretend that she's blonde haired and blue eyes. She can just skip over it. Or she can just look at it as something that is just there and not let it bother her. And she has kind of decided that she's gonna just l-- skip over it and not let it bother her. Because otherwise, it'll throw her out of the book. But it does keep her in mind the fact that these books are not about you, Deza. And then, when she reads Du Bois' book, she realizes that there are books that are about her. And that there is the capability of doing books about her.
Jo Reed: Yeah. In a different way, I know when I was-- I mean, still. But when I was younger, there was a way in which, with certain authors, I'd have to degender myself.
Christopher Paul Curtis: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. I think there are a lot of parallels between race and gender. And it was one of the reasons that, at first, I was hesitant to do the voice of a girl because I really do believe a writer can write from any point of view that they want to. I don't think there should be any kind of prescription against what you can do and what you can't do. If a white male wants to write as a black female, good. Go for it. But you do have to be very, very careful with that. I think the fact that particularly writing from a male point of view to a female point of view, or from a white point of view writing as a black person. There are certain things that you have to be very, very careful about. I think that people from groups that are traditionally oppressed, like women or like men-- or like African-Americans, have a much clearer understanding of the oppressor than the oppressor has of them. And I think that it's much easier for a woman to write from a man's point of view for that reason. Or an African-American person to write from a white point of view, and have it be accurate. And have it be something that is not offensive. So I was worried about that at the beginning, writing from the girl's point of view. But then, I just sat down. And Deza came to me and started talking to me. And it became very easy
Jo Reed: Tell us about where you grew up in Flint. What kind of a background did you have there?
Christopher Paul Curtis: Okay. Flint when I grew up in Flint, Flint was a very different kind of city. Flint had the highest per capita income for African-Americans in the country because of the factories. So many people worked in the factories and were making good living. Segregation was something that was very common. We think of it being a southern phenomenon. But it was actually much worse in the northern states. In the cities like Flint and Detroit, even to this day are the most segregated cities. So we grew up in an all black neighborhood. The doctors were Black, the grocers were black. Everybody was black around us. And really the only White people that I grew up with or that I knew as a young child were teachers. Those- those were the only White people that I dealt with. So this is really the city that I grew up with. It was segregated. But not segregated in a completely bad way. Because the professional classes were black. You saw examples of different kinds of people that were a reflection of you. My parents were very careful to expose us to all of these things. And to let us know that even though there were a lot of things against us out there, we had the power within ourselves to improve ourselves and to do something better. So that was the Flint that I grew up in. Today it's quite different. It's very depressed. So uhm.. those were the good old days, I guess.
Jo Reed: But that was exactly the kind of family that you created in The Mighty Miss Malone. They're-- they were poor. But there were rigid stand-- and I don't mean rigid in a bad way. But there were standards. And this is...
Christopher Paul Curtis: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Jo Reed: What was expected.
Christopher Paul Curtis: Yep. That's true. My mother was very, very strict. We were not allowed to do certain things. We weren't allowed to go out at night. I tell people this. They don't believe me. And I have to ask my brothers and sisters to make sure it's true. And it's true. We used to go to bed at 6:30. My mother would send us to bed at 6:30. And we'd be upstairs watching the kids downstairs playing hide and go seek. And, you know, say, "He's over there. He's over there." But we never were allowed to go out like that. And, of course, I hated it as a child. But now that I'm an adult and have children, you can see what she was trying to do. You can see that she wanted to protect you from so many different kinds of things. And I think it what she and my father did were so important because they gave us a foundation of caring. And they let us be children for a long time. You know, the time that a child should be a child. There was no rush to grow up like there is today. So I'm- I'm very grateful for that. Because I think that a foundation is something that has helped make me who I am.
Jo Reed: And you ended up working at the auto factory in Flint. Which one?
Christopher Paul Curtis: Flint Fish and Body Number One. We made the bodies. And then, they were shipped over to the other side of town. And they were put on the chassis to make Buicks, the large Buicks. I used to hang doors. And that was another brutal job.
Jo Reed: But you used that time to write.
Christopher Paul Curtis: Yeah, I did. My...
Jo Reed: Okay.
Christopher Paul Curtis: Friend and I would double up. We were supposed to do every other job. But he would do 30 in a row and I would do 30 in a row. And it gave us a half hour to do whatever we wanted. And I found that when I sat down and wrote, it took me away from being in the factory. I didn't like being there, at all. And that was really kind of the foundation of my writing, I think. I tell young people one of the most important things about writing is you have to do it every day. It's like anything else that you do. You become incrementally better. And I think the time, the hours that I spent at the factory writing were very important in developing me into being a writer.
Jo Reed: So did you know early on, Christopher, that you wanted to write?
Christopher Paul Curtis: Not really. It didn't really occur to me until I was in my 40's. I was a very good reader. And I knew bad fiction when I read it. And the fiction that I tried to write was bad fiction. I knew that I had the desire to do something. But I realized that it was not very good. And it's another thing I tell young people, you have to be patient. The writing comes later. You have to live some before you can really write well. So as I said, it was my early 40's that I finally realized I wanted to write and that I could write.
Jo Reed: When you were a kid and, you know, sent to your room at 6:30 at night, <laughs>...
Christopher Paul Curtis: <Laughs>
Jo Reed: Did you ever, like Deza, write in a notebook and keep a diary? Or…
Christopher Paul Curtis: No. I never did. There was never the desire. I think that the fact that I was such a reader. My parents were both avid readers. My mother's 87 years old now and still reads a book every day. I mean, goes through a book a day. So I had this example of reading. And that's another important part of writing. I think that if you don't read, you can't write. And by reading, you can get lessons from all kinds of writers. So that was what was important. I think the reading was the thing that was important. I didn't do a lot of--I've had a- a very unusual trip to becoming a writer, I think. Most times, there's so much rejection in writing that you have to be really driven to do it. You have to be willing to accept the rejection. I didn't have-- didn't go through any of that. Because I- I wasn't driven and I- I don't think I really developed until later and realized I was developed. And- and that's when I submitted my book.
Jo Reed: It's interesting. I was talking to a writer who started off as-- well, a cowboy, but then, a screenwriter. As you know, <laughs> there are many roads...
Christopher Paul Curtis: There are. There are.
Jo Reed: And his first novel, which was published when he was maybe 49, 51, It had been rejected by 25 publishers. And he said, "But it didn't bother me. Because, you know, I'd been a screenwriter. And in screenwriting 99.9 percent of everything you do is just rejected."
Christopher Paul Curtis: Yeah, true...
Jo Reed: So you just develop this hard skin about it. And I'd never quite heard it that way before. But...
Christopher Paul Curtis: I think-- and- and you know...
Jo Reed: That takes a lot of salt.
Christopher Paul Curtis: It does. And he is I think, much more typical than I am. I'm not good at handling rejection. The Watsons Go to Birmingham was rejected by Little Brown. If Random House had rejected it, I would've gotten the hint. I don't know how people can do that 25 times. It's soul crushing to get a letter saying, you know, "Nice try. Don't bother us again." That's really soul crushing. And after two, I would've said that's it. You know, enough. Yep.
Jo Reed: What books did you read that just made you want to do this?
Christopher Paul Curtis: As a young person, I was not much of a book reader. I read comic books. I was a very good reader. I did well in school with reading. But I never found books that really grabbed a hold of me. I think the first book that had an affect on me-- and it really surprised me. It caught me off guard. I was reading The Bridges at Toko-Ri by James Michener. And I was in class reading it. I think I was in math class reading this book. And I'm at the back of the class. And I've got the book. And I'm turning and I'm turning. And I became very emotional. I cried. And I'm-- you know, I'm sitting there with the tears coming down my cheeks. I'm thinking, "Books can do this to you?" I was in total shock. It wasn't until I became older that books really got to me. I think one of the first books that just made me want to really be a writer was "Their Eyes Were Watching God," by Zora Neale Hurston. That book just-- it just grabbed a hold of me. And me think, you know, if she can do this there are 26 letters in the alphabet. She had the same amount of letters that I have right now. Maybe I can do something like that.
Jo Reed: Now, there's been a- a lot of attention given Detroit as a place where the arts are beginning to percolate from underneath and help to recreate that city. Do you see that, as somebody who lives there?
Christopher Paul Curtis: Uh, you do. There are certain areas that have become-- you know, it- it's a- a gentrification. There's the gentrification is going on. There is a- an art community that is coming back into the city from the suburbs there. If you look at it practically, there- there are houses. There are mansions on sale in Detroit for next to nothing. So you've got to expect something like this to come in. I think that's like the- the first, the- the roots of something positive happening. That if this can get established, then, maybe something else will come in. Maybe then, the economic things will come in. Manufacturing might come back. You never know. But there is a movement towards art. There are a lot of not too far from where I live, there are a lot of painters that have moved in and sculptors. And there's a lot of different art things going on there. How long it'll take to help, or whether it's too late, I have no idea.
Jo Reed: It's hard to think of Detroit not being one of the great cities.
Christopher Paul Curtis: It is hard to think of it. But it's the population loss, it's 700,000 now from a high of 2 million. It's going through some very difficult times.
Jo Reed: Okay. So what's next for you?
Christopher Paul Curtis: I am close to done with a book that I'm calling, right now, The Mad Man of Piney Woods. It's kind of a spin-off from Elijah of Buxton. But as I'm writing it, I'm finding it more and more kind of an anti-war story. So I'm not exactly sure what's going to-- and I'm doing it from two different perspectives. From the perspective of a 12-year old African-Canadian boy in Buxton and then, a 12-year old English boy, that lives in Chatham. And a conflict that is developing between the two camps of these boys. So that's next.
Also, "Mr. Chickee's Funny Money," believe it or not, is being done as a musical. And Lamont Dozier, from Holland Dozier Holland, who wrote all the Motown hits is doing the music for it. And I went to a read through in New York recently. It's just hilarious what they've done. So I'm looking forward to that as well.
Jo Reed: Oh, God, you'll be on page and stage. <Laughs>
Christopher Paul Curtis: <Laughs> Let's hope.
Jo Reed: Christopher Paul Curtis, thank you so much. It's always a pleasure.
Christopher Paul Curtis: Thank you, Jo...
Jo Reed: Thank you.
Christopher Paul Curtis: Thank you very much. I appreciate it.
Jo Reed: That was Christopher Paul Curtis, we were talking about his novel for young adults, The Mighty Miss Malone.
You’ve been listening to Art Works, produced at the National Endowment for the Arts. Adam Kampe is the musical supervisor.
The music composed and performed by Pat Donahue and Clint Hoover.
We are taking a break next Thursday, but check back on September 6 when I speak with the founder and director of the theatre company, Elevator Repair Service, John Collins.
You can subscribe to Art Works at iTunes U -- just click on the iTunes link on our podcast page. To find out how art works in communities across the country, keep checking the Art Works blog, or follow us @NEAARTS on Twitter. For the National Endowment for the Arts, I'm Josephine Reed. Thanks for listening.