Arts & Entertainment

Award-winning author to speak at LitFest

Growing up, Chris Crutcher never was that crazy about writing.

Or reading. Or any kind of schoolwork for that matter.

"I found my older brother's old homework in high school and recycled it," he said with a laugh.

But he doesn't need other people's words anymore. Crutcher, a former teacher at Kamiakin High in Kennewick, is an award-winning author of popular books for young adults, including Whale Talk, Angry Management and Deadline.

He'll give a talk on writing at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Columbia Basin College in Pasco as part of the 2010 Mid-Columbia Literary Festival.

Crutcher, 63, of Spokane, said in a phone interview last week that he's excited to head back to the Tri-Cities. He grew up in Idaho and attended what's now Eastern Washington University, studying psychology and sociology.

He served as director of an alternative school in Oakland, Calif., and has worked as a family therapist and child protection advocate.

In the 1970s he taught social studies at Kamiakin High for about 11/2 years.

"I'm pretty sure I owe a class-action apology to any (student) who learned geography from me" he joked.

Crutcher's first novel, Running Loose, was published in 1983.

The Spokane writer's books don't delve into science fiction or fantasy and instead stay anchored in the real world. The kind of writing he does -- "it's the business of looking around the world and finding interesting things," he said.

Crutcher takes inspiration from the kids he's met and worked with over the years, he said. That means his books sometimes deal with heavy topics such as abuse and death. It also means they sometimes have been pulled from school reading lists after complaints that the content was too edgy.

"A lot of my stories are edgy in the sense that they talk about things that are uncomfortable sometimes," he said.

But the role of literature is to get people thinking and to challenge the way they look at the world, he said.

"What good story doesn't do that?" he said.

One of Crutcher's most acclaimed books, Deadline, is about a high school student who learns he's terminally ill. Another popular title, Whale Talk, is about a group of outcast teens who start their own swim team.

That tale has roots in the Tri-Cities. Crutcher coached swimming during his time at Kamiakin.

While in town, Crutcher will speak to students at the high school on North Arthur Street. He'll also pay a visit to Hanford High in Richland.

Crutcher said he doesn't start writing each book hoping to teach a certain lesson through his words -- he just wants to tell a good story.

But he does hope his writing provides some inspiration. The school visits too.

"The bottom line on school visits is to get kids reading," he said.

Crutcher's visit through LitFest is being paid for with help from the Columbia Center Rotary and Humanities Washington.

Bill McKay, dean of arts and humanities at CBC and one of the LitFest organizers, said the Spokane author has been on the group's radar for years.

This year, "everything fell into place" for him to attend, he said.

"I think if you can bring in a 'local' person who is making it in (the writing world), it's such a great thing to be able to put together. I know the teachers, the faculty are excited to have him here," McKay said.

Crutcher's talk Wednesday is at CBC's Gjerde Center. There's no charge.

Winners of CBC's student writing contest also will be announced during the event.

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