A few thoughts about one of my favorite children’s authors. I first met Shutta at a writing conference, my first one in fact. I was sitting at a big round table and someone beholding a contagious smile sat down next to me. And then, the table was full. Chuckle!
It is my privilege to dedicate this next several blog post to one of the most intriguing, inspiring, and gifted writers I know, Shutta Crum.
Michelle Bradford: How has your environment & upbringing colored your writing?
Shutta Crum: When I was growing up we could not afford many books. So we had only a few in the house, and the Golden Book Encyclopedia. (Which Mom got one volume at a time from the local grocery store. I adored them.) Getting my hands on books was a big deal. There was no public library in our neck of the woods. But we lived next door to the elementary school and its library was open all summer. I read almost every book in the library—which, at the time, I thought was so big. It is now a janitor’s closet! I also borrowed books from a neighbor lady who had the whole set of Zane Grey books with their gorgeous covers. So books were valued in our family.
Also, I come from an oral storytelling tradition. Born in the southeastern mountains of Kentucky my relatives were all what is known as “big talkers.” They could really tell whoppers, and it was so much fun! In fact, no matter your age, if you had a good tale to tell you got the stage. I became addicted. My father was the baby of twelve. (Nine made it through to adulthood.) But in order to be noticed he had to talk. And he was one of the best talkers. I remember clinging to his tall legs and listening, with my eyes wide, at some wild tales from those dark hollers.
Much later, I learned that my father was functionally illiterate. Having only attended school until about grade 4 or 5—and then, only when the weather was bad, because otherwise he would be working the farm—he could make out a few things with the help of pictures. I came to learn that this was why education was so important to both my father and my mother. We were never allowed to miss a day of school. And Dad often made us read our homework out loud so he could “check it. He was always proud of my reading, and liked seeing me with a book in my hands.
Before he died in 2008 I found him one morning with one of my picture books. He’d “read” it with the help of the illustrations. He put his arm around me and said, “Ya done good.”
With all of this, how could storytelling not be in my blood? My illiterate Dad raised a reader, and a writer, as well. I think Dad was the one that “did good.”