By Sophia Chen
Photo By Lynsie Corfield
Pinewood will be having its first annual Celebration of Literature Week March 2-6. The culmination of the event will be a talk with renowned author Chris Crowe, best known as the author of “Mississippi Trial, 1955” on Thursday, March 5. The Perennial had the opportunity to interview Crowe as he talked about his journey of being an author.
Q: Can you describe the moment that you realized you wanted to become a writer?
A: The summer of sixth grade, I was on a reading tear, trying to digest the complete works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and lots of classic science fiction novels, and at one point a question struck me: how could I move to the other side of the book? Readers are on one side of the book, but it dawned on me that a writer is on the other side. That’s when I started thinking about trying to become a writer.
Q: A common theme in the books you write is the civil rights movement. Why does this particular issue interest you?
A: Injustice is inherently interesting, especially injustice that is covered up, overlooked, or forgotten. It’s probably my own fault for being a lousy [and] lazy student, but I don’t recall learning much of anything in school about the Civil Rights movement. I backed into it when I was researching for a book about Mildred D. Taylor, one of my favorite authors, and much of her life was shaped by the experiences—abuses, really—her family experienced because they were African American. Every story and event I encountered in that research shocked and troubled me, and I wanted to learn more, so I kept digging. That’s how I ran into the Emmett Till case. There’s also a personal connection: my two youngest daughters are African American, and being their father has introduced me to racism—subtle and obvious racism—in a very personal way.
Q: Would you consider yourself a civil rights activist?
A: Well, not an activist on the level of Martin Luther King Jr. or Malcolm X but as an informed citizen, teacher and writer who cares deeply about civil rights, yes, I’m that kind of activist.
Q: What advice do you have for
A: Read. Read. Read. Read all kinds of things, not just what you have a special interest in, and when you read something that really hammers you, read it again, but this time, read like a writer. Look at technique and structure and word choice and anything else that gave that text power. Write. Write. Write. Writers have to write, obviously, but it’s commonly known that our writing improves the more we write. It’s also great to enter writing contests because they treat you like a real writer, giving you a reason to write and most importantly, a deadline to finish that writing. When you have a bit of writing you really care about, share it with a trusted reader—someone like an English teacher who will tell you the truth about what you’ve written. Then, revise,
Q: What would you say is the biggest challenge of the process of writing a book? How do you usually overcome this challenge?
A: For me, the first full draft is my biggest, more difficult hurdle to get over. Every line, every paragraph, every page is a struggle. How do I overcome it? Not very well, sometimes, but the best thing is to establish a writing routine and to stick with it—and to give myself permission to write badly, knowing that revision will fix the
Q: How did you get inspired to write “Mississippi Trial, 1955?”
A: The Emmett Till case was something never mentioned in all my years of school. I ran into it only because Mildred D. Taylor had made a reference to a boy from Chicago about her age who was murdered in Mississippi. I had no idea who she was talking about, so I started digging, and I was stunned by what I found. In my research, I also learned that, at the time, almost nothing had been written about the case—just one academic book in the late 1990s, so I saw a wonderful opportunity to share an important story from history with teenage readers.
Q: How do you feel about the fact that Pinewood seventh graders are reading this book in literature class?
A: I’m thrilled! When I was working on this book, I sometimes worried that I’d never finish it, or if I did, it would never get published, or if it did get published no one, except my mother, would ever read it. It’s tremendously gratifying to have Pinewood students read one of my books. It’s also gratifying because Emmett’s mother spent much of her life working to make sure her son wasn’t forgotten, so I know she’d be pleased to know that students are learning about him and about the effect his murder had on American history.
Q: What part of the book was your favorite to write?
A: Any scene with the Remington brothers. I loved the comic relief those two brought to the story.
Q: What long-term goals do you have for yourself as a writer? Are you working on any new books?
A: I just finished two book manuscripts, but in an era new for me: the early 19th century. Based on feedback I have yet to receive, I’ll probably have some rewriting to do on them. I’m currently revising a romantic comedy for teenage readers, and my next project will be a historical novel set in 1969.