Chris Crutcher is coming to the Vegas Valley Book Festival on Oct 15, 2016 and I couldn’t think of anyone I would rather hear speak to students, teachers, librarians, and parents about the challenges some (too many) kids face. As part of his visit Chris will be speaking on a panel about censorship. I know; it is a touchy subject. I continue, however, to have one abiding question about the censorship issues: Why do people spend time banning books instead of assuring the safety of children? I know they are not quite the same thing, but they are related. Many abused adolescents think they are alone, that it is their fault, or that they can’t tell anyone. Of course, from an adult perspective we can see that they are not alone, that it isn’t their fault, and, yes, they can tell somebody. Nevertheless, the topic is frequently silenced in arenas of their lives. Adults in school settings often just don’t talk about sensitive issues or do it inadequately. As a result, too many students live lives of quiet desperation. Books can help and Crutcher's offerings are a giant step forward.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn, in his acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize in Literature, notes that Dostoevsky stated that “Beauty would save the world.” As Solzhenitsyn discusses both beauty and art he explains: “There is, however, a certain peculiarity in the essence of beauty, a peculiarity in the status of art: namely, the convincingness of a true work of art is completely irrefutable and it forces even an opposing heart to surrender.” I clearly remember as a senior in high school reading Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. I couldn’t have talked about, written about it, or even discussed it. I wasn’t prepared. I was, however, an avid reader and about a third of the way into the book I knew I was reading the greatest novel I have ever encountered up to that point in my life. It might have been from that moment that I knew reading would be essential to my professional life. Perhaps, teaching and reading has been an attempt to understand Crime and Punishment and the suffering that exists in the human condition.
Most of our students are not ready for Dostoevsky or Melville or Faulkner or Morrison, but they are ready for Crutcher. He writes where they live, or, if not them, their classmates. Crutcher has the ability of the artist as Solzhenitsyn describes it “to be more keenly aware than others of the harmony of the world, of the beauty and ugliness of the human contribution to it, and to communicate this acutely to his fellow-men. And in misfortune, and even at the depths of existence or in destitution, in prison, in sickness – his sense of stable harmony never deserts him.” When students find Crutcher’s works they find Beauty and Truth. What more can you ask?
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