Happy Birthday, Chris Crutcher

Authors, Banned and Challenged Books, Banned Books Week

By: Kristin Pekoll

Chris Crutcher is an award-winning young adult author, a pioneer of the genre, and a therapist who lives in Spokane, Washington. He runs, swims, and rescues kittens. Today he turns 71. He is my all-time favorite author ever.

Every couple years I reread Whale Talk and discover the intense pain and teenage boy humor like it was the first time. This novel is timeless and completely underrated. Here’s the synopsis from Chris’s website.

Synopsis of Whale Talk by Chris CrutcherHere’s the thing about Chris’s books: the plot is secondary. You don’t read his books because you love stories about high school swim teams. You read his books because of the voices. I have never read an author with a more authentic character voice. You read these books because you enjoy the feeling of swallowing snot when you are caught off guard with a sudden laugh while you still have tears and other fluids rolling down your cheeks.

Chris on censorship

Reasons why Chris Crutcher's books are bannedTo this date, Chris has written 14 books — all have been challenged or banned. Yes, every single book he’s published has been challenged and many of them banned in classrooms. That alone should have you running to the CRU shelf of your library’s young adult section. On his website, he chronicles the 35 public challenges from 1995 to 2011. It’s pretty comprehensive and includes the 2014 challenge to Chinese Handcuffs and The Kite Runner in the Waukesha School District libraries. Most of the time, complaints list language as the reason his books should be banned, but parents, never lacking in creativity, have a wide variety of gripes.

A day in 2010

It wasn’t long after my own brush with censorship, that I was asked to read at ALA’s Banned Books Week Read-Out. It was a gorgeous September day in 2010 and I couldn’t believe how lucky I was to be invited to a read-out in Bughouse Square. I was so nervous to meet Chris. Before the read out, he was signing books in the McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum below a grand staircase with a mezzanine overlooking the floor below. I circled the mezzanine repeatedly, watching him (some might say “stalking” him) because I couldn’t gather the courage to have him sign my book and introduce myself as his biggest fan.

Al Pacino Gif

The read-out was extraordinary. I was in literary heaven. The theme for 2010 was “Think for Yourself and Let Others Do the Same” with a life-size robot in attendance to make the point as clear as possible. The American Library Association was joined by the Chicago Public Library, Readers’ Theatre Project, the McCormick Foundation, CityLit, and Open Books. In addition to Chris Crutcher, readers included author, Lauren Myracle; Roberta Stevens, president of ALA; Rick Kogan of WGNKent Oliver, president of the Freedom to Read Foundation; and Judith Krug‘s granddaughters.

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(The full read-out outside was recorded by WBEZ and there is a Facebook album with more detailed captions.)

Later that night, we all had dinner together and I got to sit next to Chris. He was kind and funny. I couldn’t believe he was physically sitting beside me. I’m surprised I didn’t pinch him.

Did I mention he also rescues cats?

Chris saving the cat:

“I said, I wasn’t actually in the market. When YOU look at me you see an old guy in jeans and a sweatshirt. A cat sees the gateway to the netherworld,” wrote Crutcher. Read the entire story of Dick.

Chris is a staunch defender of the freedom to read. He has amazing stories of his interactions with people who try to censor his books but ultimately he’s a person just like everyone else. He puts his swim trunks on one leg at a time. But to me, Chris Crutcher is a literary rock star, an Oscar winner of words, and People’s sexiest kitten rescuer all rolled into one. Happy birthday, Chris, my friend.


Kristin PekollKristin Pekoll is the Assistant Director of ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom. Kristin communicates with state library associations on current book challenges and publications that deal with censorship, privacy, ethics, and internet filtering. She organizes online education and training on the freedom to read and how to navigate reconsideration requests and media relations. Kristin started her career as a youth librarian in West Bend, Wisconsin. In 2009, over 80 YA LGBTQ books were challenged over 6 months. While the library board voted to retain all of the books in this case, she learned the indispensable value of support and education for librarians. She continued to fight against censorship in Wisconsin as the Intellectual Freedom Round Table Chair. Kristin’s husband and kids have joined her in Chicago but they all remain true Green Bay Packers fans. She enjoys zombies, knitting, and the Big Bang Theory. Find her on Twitter @kpekoll.

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