Charles R. Smith
In his own words…
“I love sports. I love music. I love movies. I love poetry. But most of all, I love what ties all of these together: photography and writing.
“I never intended to be a children’s book author-it just happened. I was slowly working my way up the ladder in professional photography when my career took a turn. I had been showing a collection of pictures I’d been working on since 1996 that I called ‘Street Basketball in New York.’ The time was mid ’97, and I had collected quite a few images. When the art director at Dutton Children’s Books saw them, she thought that they would make a great children’s book. Since I had no real plans for the images, I agreed. I mentioned that I loved to write, and that was the beginning of my detour into children’s books.
“Books, to me, have to say something, and the books that I remembered the most always had a few elements in common: a great story, great dialogue, and a vivid description of place. I try to incorporate these elements in every book that I do-because if I don’t want to read it, then I definitely won’t want to write it.
“Music helps me use language to create rhythm in the story and rhythm between the characters. To me, a story should move like a song, with high notes, low notes, and harmony. It’s important for me to convey this idea in my stories, because when I was a kid growing up and reading books, there were few children’s authors who actually used slang or dialogue I was accustomed to. There was also, it seemed, only a handful of black authors that I had access to. Having now written a few children’s books myself, I want kids who are reluctant to read to be able to identify with characters who speak the same language they do.
“Photographically, I want to show a child that there is more than one way to take a picture. Upon receiving my degree in photography from Brooks Institute in California, I promised myself that I would always try every technique available to create the effect that I wanted to achieve in an image. That’s why every book I do will look different.
“After reading some of my favorite books as a child, I always wished there was more information on how the author created the story. That is how the ‘Inspirations’ page came about in the basketball trilogy that started with Rimshots. It’s important to me to show children that I didn’t just pull these creative morsels out of thin air and that they too can learn about and be inspired by the people and things that inspired me.
“Growing up around a host of cousins, uncles, aunts, and other relatives gave me a beautiful education in learning how people really speak and what their words reveal about their personalities. From listening to the nostalgic tales of my grandparents in Compton, California, and to the colorful and extremely funny tales of my grandfather in South Bend, Indiana, I gained an appreciation and respect for the wisdom that comes with age and experience.
“While I may not have written as much in my adult life as some writers, I definitely make a point of getting the most out of life and experiencing it to the fullest. I’ve seen sunsets atop volcanoes and scuba dived among sharks in Hawaii. I’ve gotten lost in Paris and had fun doing it. I’ve eaten a home-cooked meal on a farm in Italy. I’ve met the president of the United States. I’ve met and photographed some of my basketball idols. I’ve worked on a cruise ship in the Caribbean and Hawaii. I’ve eaten sushi in Japan. But most important, these things remind me that there is an abundance of experiences in life. Whether you read about them or actually partake in them, anything that takes you into a new world will broaden your horizons as a person and especially as a writer.”
The author has traveled the United States and abroad to take photographs for the NBA, Slam, and Sports Illustrated.
Charles R. Smith Jr. lives in Brooklyn, New York.
Books by Charles Smith:
Short Takes: Fast-Break Basketball Poetry. Dutton, March 2001.
Tall Tales: Six Amazing Basketball Dreams. Dutton, 2000.
Rimshots: Basketball Picks, Rolls, and Rhythms. Dutton, 1999; Puffin, 2000.
copyright © 2000 by Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers. All rights reserved.