Book Talk: The Watsons Go to Birmingham
with authors Christopher Paul Curtis and Jason Reynolds
March 2, 2021 • 6:00pm Central
Purchase a copy of the book, The Watsons Go to Birmingham, from the museum's online store:
During the 25th anniversary edition release of The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963, Christopher Paul Curtis discusses the novel’s continued impact for generations with renowned author and poet Jason Reynolds in a virtual conversation hosted by the National Civil Rights Museum. The book is a coming-of-age, moral reckoning story of a young family traveling in the South who confronts racial hatred and protest yet lifts up history, heroes and safe havens – topics Jason Reynolds also encourages youth today to discover through literature. The two award-winning writers are part of the museum’s virtual Book and Author Series on March 2.
Christopher Paul Curtis’ first novel, The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963, was singled out for many awards, including a Newbery Honor and a Coretta Scott King Honor Award, and has been a bestseller in hardcover and paperback. Curtis recalls the idea for the book came from a trip his Flint, Michigan family took to Florida and was fueled by Dudley Randall’s poem "The Ballad of Birmingham." He entered the manuscript into a publishing contest. Although he didn’t win, he said, “an editor saw something special in the Watsons, and my book was subsequently published nonetheless.”
Curtis’ most recent novels include The Mighty Miss Malone, Mr. Chickee’s Messy Mission, Mr. Chickee’s Funny Money, and Bucking the Sarge. He also won the Newbery Medal and the Coretta Scott King Award for his bestselling second novel, Bud, Not Buddy.
The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963 has guided young readers inside the tumultuous summer of 1963 through the eyes of one studious, thoughtful little boy whose family is caught up in events during one of the darkest moments in America’s history. The moral of the story being that even in the hardest times, laughter and loved ones can help one get through almost anything. For many young readers, Curtis’s book was an introduction to the Civil Rights Movement, and many of those same readers are now activists calling for change and leading the Black Lives Matter movement across the globe—activists who would share this story with their own kids one day.
One such literary activist is Jason Reynolds who was recently named the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature by the Library of Congress and is spearheading a national virtual tour to inspire youth to read and write. Reynolds co-wrote with Ibram X. Kendi Stamped: Racism, Antiracism and You, A Remix of the National Book Award-winning Stamped from the Beginning. Reynolds’ other award-winning work for mid-grade and young adult readers includes The Boy in the Black Suit, All American Boys, Long Way Down and As Brave As You, all of which include youth of color as protagonists.
The conversation between Curtis and Reynolds is designed to weave the intergenerational story of African Americans’ fight against racial discrimination and violence to engage a new generation of change-makers. Autographed copies of both the original and 25th anniversary editions of The Watsons Go to Birmingham are available for purchase in the museum’s online store.