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THE WATSONS GO TO
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THE WATSONS GO TO
a novel by
Christopher Paul Curtis
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Published by Delacorte Press, a division of Random House, Inc. Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc.
1540 Broadway New York, New York 10036
Copyright © 1995 by Christopher Paul Curtis
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the written permission of the Publisher, except where permitted by law.
The trademark Delacorte Press® is registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and in other countries.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Curtis, Christopher Paul. The Watsons go to Birmingham—1963 / Christopher Paul Curtis.
Summary:The ordinary interactions and everyday routines of the Watsons, an African American family living in Flint, Michigan, are drastically changed after they go to visit Grandma in Alabama
in the summer of 1963.
[1. Afro Americans—Fiction. 2. Family life—Fiction. 3. Prejudices—Fiction. 4. Brothers and sisters—Fiction. 5. Flint (Mich.)—Fiction.] I.Title.
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This book is dedicated to my parents, Dr. Herman and Leslie Lewis
Curtis, who have given their children both roots and wings and
encouraged us to soar; my sister, Cydney Eleanor Curtis, who has been
unfailingly supportive, kind and herself; and above all to my wife,
Kaysandra Anne Sookram Curtis, who has provided a warmth and
love that have allowed me to laugh, to grow and, most importantly, to
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The author wishes to extend his sincere thanks to the following: the
Avery Hopwood and Jules Hopwood Prize of the University of
Michigan, Ann Arbor, for much-appreciated recognition; the staff of
the Windsor Public Library, especially Terry Fisher, for providing a
stimulating and supportive atmosphere in which to write; Welwyn
Wilton Katz, for her valuable help;Wendy Lamb, whose skill as an edi-
tor is matched only by her patience; Joan Curtis Taylor, who forever
will be a powerful exemplar of strength and hope; Lynn Guest, whose
kindness and compassion are a restorative to a person’s faith in
humankind; and particularly to my dear friend Liz Ivette Torres
(Betty), who can’t possibly know how much her friendship, sugges-
tions and insights have meant.
Special thanks to my daughter, Cydney, who makes me feel like a
hero just for coming home from work, and to Steven, who is without
doubt the best first reader, critic and son any writer could ask for.
Finally, a salute to Stevland Morris of Saginaw, Michigan, who so
vividly and touchingly reminded me of what it felt like to be “sneakin’
out the back door to hang out with those hoodlum friends of mine.”
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In memory of
Addie Mae Collins
Born 4/18/49, died 9/15/63
Born 11/17/51, died 9/15/63
Born 4/24/49, died 9/15/63
Born 4/30/49, died 9/15/63
the toll for one day in one city
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t was one of those super-duper-cold Saturdays. One of those days that when you breathed out your breath kind of hung frozen in the air like a hunk of smoke and you could walk along and look exactly like a train blowing out big, fat, white puffs of smoke.
It was so cold that if you were stupid enough to go outside your eyes would automatically blink a thousand times all by themselves, probably so the juice inside of them wouldn’t freeze up. It was so cold that if you spit, the slob would be an ice cube before it hit the ground. It was about a zillion degrees below zero.
It was even cold inside our house. We put sweaters and hats and scarves and three pairs of socks on and still were cold.The thermostat was turned all the way up and the furnace was banging and sounding like it was about to blow up but it still felt like Jack Frost had moved in with us.
All of my family sat real close together on the couch under a blan- ket. Dad said this would generate a little heat but he didn’t have to tell us this, it seemed like the cold automatically made us want to get together and huddle up. My little sister, Joetta, sat in the middle and all you could see were her eyes because she had a scarf wrapped around her head. I was next to her, and on the outside was my mother.