Transcript from an interview with Christopher Myers

Below is an edited transcript from Reading Rockets' interview with Christopher Myers. The transcript is divided into the following sections:

Christopher Myers

Creating new images

My name is Chris Myers, and I see my job as telling stories about my neighborhood; about where I come from; about where I grew up; about people that I've met — people like my aunts and my uncles — my family. I see my job as talking about black people, and talking about black people in ways that I want to see black people talked about. So often, you look on TV, you look in magazines, you look in the newspaper, and the only time you see black people is when we're being arrested or being shot. We're either on one side of the gun or the other. And I'm not particularly interested in those images, because that's not the life I lead. That's not the life that most black people lead. I think that those are the stories I want to tell. And I think that those stories are interesting for all people.

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Everyone has a story to tell

I grew up in Queens and then in Jersey City, both urban areas in the New York area. My dad is a writer, which was cool, because I never really saw him go off to work. I would wake up in the morning, and there he would be. And I'd go to sleep at night, and he would still be there. And so I saw that that was his job. His job was to make up stories, and I said, "This is a great job. You don't have to go anywhere. You don't have to dress up fancy." And I've always wanted to be a part of that life of making books. I had stories to tell.

And I think everyone has stories to tell. This is one of the things I'm really interested in — is telling kids that. I don't care who you are. You have a story to tell. You come from someplace. You have experiences. You live your life, and that's interesting. Where you live is interesting. Where you come from is interesting — no matter who you are. I want to tell my story, and I also want to encourage kids to tell their stories.

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At home in Brooklyn

I live in Brooklyn. I live in Clinton Hill, Fort Green. It's right by Bed-Stuy. And I love my neighborhood. There's nothing I do not love about my neighborhood. I love the people on the streets. I love the sirens, because I know where I am. I remember for a few years I lived in another city — but it was a more country city. It was Providence, Rhode Island. I lived there for a few years when I went to college. And I swear for the first three months of being there, I was nervous. I was freaked out, because it was too quiet. I didn't feel right. The first thing I thought to myself was, "This is where bad things happen. Bad things happen in quiet places. That's why they're quiet."

That's one of the things I love about my neighborhood. My neighborhood always lets me know that it's here with me. When I walk out the door of my house, there's about 15 to 20 people who will say hello to me, who will just give me a little, slight nod and say, "What's up?" And they're acknowledging my presence, and I really enjoy that. That's part of what makes this place feel like home to me.

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Radioactive bunnies

My grandfather couldn't read. And, yet, he was one of the best storytellers I ever met. I get a lot of my storytelling from him. And I know that I get it from him, because I used to sit on his knee, and he would tell me these stories about radioactive bunnies running around. He would scare you — he was always telling these scary stories. And that's my grandpa. Some people may say that he didn't have an ounce of talent, but I knew that he was made of talent. You know, that's my grandpa. He could tell a story like nobody's business.

And so, for me, I'd say that some part of what I do is about talent — but very, very little. If I have anything, it's the desire to work on what I do. I'll sit with a drawing. I'll sit with a book for a year and-a-half before I'll put it out. And it takes a while, even if it's a little, short book where the whole thing written out is one page or half of a page. I'll still work on it for about a year, just to make sure it's right, just to make sure it says everything I want it to say. So there is talent, but talent is nothing without work.

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Hard work

One of the things, I think, that's really wrong about the way that TV is and the way that the newspapers are is that when they look at successful people, they don't ever really want to show you how much work successful people put into their work. They want to make it seem like they're just born that way, or that they just come out of the door one day and, all of a sudden, oh, you're Puff Daddy, or you're some rapper, or you're some musician, or you're some athlete. And all these people put in mad work.

I remember for one of my first books, Puffy did a reading of it — a book on tape. So, I went to his offices, and I thought it was kind of cool. This is '96, '97, when Puffy was real, real big. And one of the things, I thought, that was crazy about him was that that man was working the whole time. He was on the phone while he was talking to me about what he was doing — this is somebody who was working!

And that's something that I took with me — to say that, no matter how easy someone may make it look in the video, no matter how easy they seem to portray their lives, everybody's out there working hard. It's hard work for everyone, and that's something that I take with me when I'm finding my life hard. Or, when I'm finding the work I'm doing to be hard, I think to myself, "Well, if I'm going be good, it's going to be about hard work." Because nobody got up in the morning and could draw perfectly.

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Big feet

Growing up, I was the tallest one in my class. I was the youngest one in my class. I've always had big feet. I was kind of to myself, growing up. And it took me a long time to learn that all those things were cool, that all those things were just part of who I was and part of who I am. And it doesn't matter what it is that goes on in your life. The things that make you you are the things that you need to be proud of, are the things that you need to understand as being something to be celebrated.

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Reading is not like going to Hawaii

When some people talk about reading, they talk about it like it's a vacation. They talk about reading like, "Oh, reading is really great. It's like going to Hawaii." And it's not like going to Hawaii. And that's something that people need to understand and deal with.

Reading is like eating. You need to read in today's world. You need to fight for that strength that it takes to read. Reading will be part of your life every day. If you want to know what's going on in the world, you need to read about it. If you want to know what's going on in your neighborhood, you need to read about it to get past all the random guys on the corner, who will tell you 15 kinds of stories and none of them will be true. Reading is not a luxury. Reading is not a vacation. Reading is a necessity. You have to read, and you have to fight to make sure that that reading will be part of your life.

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A wider world

My neighborhood is full of a lot of people. If you go to my corner right now, there's about ten guys standing on my corner. And they're just holding the walls up, and they're cool. I like them. But one of the things about their lives that strikes me is that sometimes their lives can be kind of narrow. What I mean is that they don't know anything past our corner.

And I like to know things. I like to know what's going on in Africa. I like to know what's going on in India. I want to know how that affects me, because it does. And I like to be "worldly." I like to know about my surroundings. I like to know about new music. I find out about music before a lot of my friends. That's one of the things that my friends will always say: "Man, where'd you get that CD from?" Well, I find out about it, because I make it my business to go and find out and read about music, so I can know what the newest, latest is. And all of that is part of my world of reading.

Reading touches every part of my life. It touches when I go play ball, because I read books sometimes about ways to make myself a more effective ballplayer. It touches the way I paint. Painting in some ways has nothing to do with reading in any kind of direct way, but I read books about painting. I read books about artists and how they live their lives. There is no part of my life that I can imagine without reading.

If something breaks in my house, I don't call my landlord, because my landlord is slow. I like him, but he is slow. I usually go get a book, figure out how to fix it myself. And in that, I find that reading touches every part of my life. And it makes my life better. In the end, I know that I'm a better person and my life is better, because I take the time and do the work of reading.

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"Reading is not optional." —

Walter Dean Myers