Interview with Award-Winning Author Shutta Crum

coverDozens2012Get to know Shutta…

Shutta Crum is the author of thirteen picture books, two novels, and many poems. She is also a storyteller, a public speaker and a retired librarian. Her poems have appeared in numerous literary journals, and her articles about teaching and writing have appeared in several professional journals. Her book, THUNDER-BOMER! (Clarion) received four starred reviews and was an Amer. Library Assoc. and a Smithsonian Magazine “Notable Book,” as well as an SLJ “Best Book” of the year. MINE! (Albert A. Knopf) garnered four starred reviews and was listed in the New York Times as one of the best board books of the year. Her newest book, DOZENS OF COUSINS (Clarion) came out to glowing and starred reviews in 2013, including an extensive review in the NY Times. In 2010 she was invited to tour American military base schools across Japan and talk to children about writing. In 2005, she was honored by being one of eight authors invited to read at the White House for the Easter Egg Roll. And in 2002 she was awarded the Michigan Library Association’s Merit Award as the State’s youth librarian of the year. For more info, visit her website

Quirky Questions

What’s your favorite zoo animal?

Polar bears. I’m fascinated by how graceful they are—especially under water. I LOVE to go to places where I can view them through glass as they swim by.  To go to Churchill in Canada and see the polar bears is one of the top destinations on my “bucket list.”  And now there are great concerns about their future. Very sad. My book CLICK! is about polar bears. It is one of my two books published by a Canadian publisher. And, of course, Phillip Pullman’s HIS DARK MATERIALS series is a favorite due to the presence of polar bears and their cold world.

Have you ever felt enlightened by an event in the past that has given you a new perspective on life? 

Years ago I was traveling in England and I was coming back into London via train. We were going through a dark tunnel. Suddenly there was a bright spot of light. As we drew closer I saw that it was a fire in a large metal drum. But what was so startling was that the sole person staying warm by this fire was a small boy of about 5 years dressed only in a t-shirt. He was naked from the waist down. I will never forget how my heart leapt up and I cried out. And in a flash we had zipped right past him. I wanted to scream out to stop the train—and I couldn’t, of course. His image has stayed with me many, many years. And when I speak to children I often mention him. Who was he? Why was he alone? Who had built the fire for him? When was the last time he’d eaten, or been held by someone who loved him? What has happened to him?

I’ve never been able to write about him specifically—but that image haunts me and one day I will write of him. 

Do you believe in UFOs?

Not sure if I believe we have been visited from afar. But I do believe in life on other planets. How could there NOT be? The universe is so vast and we are so insignificant in comparison.  But I used to live on a farm on a road where UFOs were sighted in the 1960s, so I wrote a poem about it. You may reprint it if you wish. 

 

In a House above which UFOs were Sighted in 1966

(First published in AAR2.) 

 

The rumble of a jet reverberates off low clouds.

I close my eyes and strain to hear, cloaked within—stealthier sounds.

 

At my side there is the sound of your breathing.

First the sibilant intake, then the buffalo-ing exhale.

And there—that’s the cat alighting between us.

He takes two turns across the foot of our bed

complaining about his arthritis. Not a perfect landing.

 

Not . . . say . . . like the shimmery touch

of silver sliding through soy beans.

 

And surely that—Listen! That’s just the maple tree

dropping a branch upon the roof, don’t you think?

Or the house planting itself deeper into the soil—

into land settled by honest Lutheran farmers.

Big, solid men. Plain-speakers who offer travelers a beer.

 

By my bed lies the newspaper clipping.

It was forty years ago the lights touched down.

Washington experts said it was swamp gas.

 

Surely “the experts” know how swamp gas graces

a German farmer’s fields like gossamer and rises again

in a fantasy of colored lights flickering against moon-lit metal?

The farmers shook their heads. They know what they saw

—plain as weather.

 

Tonight, the jet’s rumblings have flattened out and moved off.

I stare out the bedroom window into the scintillescent dark.

Fireflies are bejeweling the maple tree as though expecting royalty. 

 

What’s the worst thing you did as a kid?

I once participated in soaping a store’s windows on Halloween. We were caught, of course, and we had to wash it off.  My first foray into getting my work out to “my public.”  Hah! 

tumblr_lprqsrJpfm1qk4j3pWriting Questions

What do you do to keep yourself motivated and interested in your work?

I read, read, read.  I am always so amazed at the techniques other authors use to achieve a depth of feeling in their books. It invigorates me when I read a really great book.

What kind of jobs did you have before your career took off?

I was a youth librarian for 24 years, and prior to that a library director. I LOVED working in a public library. The kids and families that came in were a joy to serve. And, of course, I was surrounded every day by wonderful literature! How could I not want to see one of my own books on those very same shelves one day? (And I did!)

What is your favorite accomplishment?

I was given the Michigan Library Association Award as youth librarian of the year for the State of Michigan in 2002. A real highlight in my library career.

If you could interview any author (past or present), who would you choose?

Well . . .  it would have to be an investigation into who really wrote Shakespeare’s plays. But as to who to interrogate?  The actor, Shakespeare, certainly. And maybe Christopher Marlowe and Francis Bacon, as well. 

If you could change one aspect of our society through your work, what would it be?

To always choose kindness. I know that sounds trite.  But kindness goes a long way toward understanding. And when we understand each other we begin to appreciate our differences and to celebrate them, as well. I hope my readers sense the “heart” in my stories and that the basis of that feeling is a deep appreciation for the differences among us. How boring it would be if we all thought and felt alike!

How has personal experience influenced your writing? 

Any creative person is influenced by his or her life.  In my case storytelling was in my family’s blood long before I was born. I was born in Kentucky. And it was fortunate for me that I happened to be born in the mountains where telling “whoppers” and listening to tall tales long into the night is part of the Appalachian heritage. In those dark and scrawny hollers (narrow valleys) I’d cling to my father’s tall legs and stare wide-eyed as I listened to the hair-raising tales my relatives told. We are all big talkers in our family, and stories are the cement of generations.

What was wonderful was that no matter your age, if you had a story to tell you were given “the stage,” as it were. And everyone listened, young and old. The important thing was the story.  This still happens in our family, despite the appearance of electronics and other attention-grabbing intrusions. When someone starts telling “a good one,” all eyes switch over and a kind of holy silence descends until the (usually) uproarious conclusion. What better place to nourish a writer?

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