Jo Reed: And you ended up working at the auto factory in Flint. Which one?
Christopher Paul Curtis: Flint Fisher Body #1. We made the bodies, and then they were shipped over to the other side of town and they were put on the chassis to make Buicks, large Buicks. I used to make doors, and that was another brutal job. There were two of us that do it. I'd do one, and my partner would do the next one. And we'd do every other job, for ten hours a day. So you're standing up for ten hours. So we decided it would be easier if he did 30 in a row, and then I did 30 in a row. You worked twice as hard, twice as fast, but we discovered that that way, we would have a half-hour out of every hour to sit down and do whatever we wanted to do.
Jo Reed: You used that time to write.
Christopher Paul Curtis: Yeah, I did. When I sat down and wrote, it took me away from being in the factory. I didn't like being there at all. And that was really kind of the foundation of my writing I think. One of the most important things about writing is you have to do it every day. It's like anything else that you do. You become incrementally better. And I think the time, the hours I spent at the factory writing were very important developing me into a writer. I started writing professionally by entering contests through Random House. I didn't win the contest, but they published the book, The Watsons Go to Birmingham. I'd taken a year off work and decided to try and write a book. I'd go to the Windsor Public Library, and in a rare burst of good judgement on my part, I said to myself, "This is not a vacation that you're taking from work. You have to take this very seriously. This is a job." So I'd been working in a warehouse unloading trucks at that time, and went to work every day and respected my boss. I was my own boss now, so I had to give myself the same respect. I'd go every day and write, ended up with a manuscript, finally got it published, and started writing books. You know, young people say to me a lot, "Well how do I get started writing?" And I tell them, "You have to be patient, number one, because writing is one of the few arts where we don't have prodigies. It's something you have to live for a while. And I was in my early 40s when the first book came out. So it was the right time for things to happen for me that way.
Jo Reed: That's Michigan author Christopher Paul Curtis.
Curtis's path to writing was not an easy or obvious one. It began, interestingly enough, in a factory in Flint, Michigan. [2:22]