Vince Vawter Discusses Paperboy for The Children’s Book Review
Vince Vawter discusses his “utterly eye-opening debut, Paperboy [that] sheds a spotlight on stuttering and the impact it has on a child’s life.”
Vawter, a native of Memphis, retired after a 40-year career in newspapers, most recently as the president and pubisher of the Evansville Courier & Press in Indiana.
The only question I ever had about the story in “Paperboy” was when I would write it. Never if.
July 1959, the time in which the narrative takes place, remains so clear in my mind that after a day of writing I would have to gently ease myself out of my state of consciousness as an 11-year-old boy in Memphis and back into my reality as a 60-something newspaper publisher. After an intense writing session, I sometimes would find my my conversations regressing to the bad speech habits of 50 years prior.
The question always arises concerning just how much of “Paperboy” is autobiographical. I let one of the characters in the novel answer. Mr. Spiro, the paperboy’s newfound mentor on the newspaper route, tells him: I contend that one is likely to find more truth in fiction. A good painting after all is more truthful than a photograph.
A more straightforward answer is that essentially all of the events in the story have some basis in fact, especially the parts of the narrative that have to do with the paperboy’s stutter. Yes, more than once I blacked out while trying to tell someone my name. Yes, I sometimes would press a sharp thumbtack deep into my palm while I read aloud in class. Yes, I would pound out on a typewriter at night words that I had stuttered on during the day.
Another relevant subplot in the book is the confusion brought on by the harshly segregated Memphis of the 1950s. The boy cannot understand why his black housekeeper, a woman he loves and respects, is treated so badly by people of both races.
With these observations, don’t think my story is one of pain and fear. I look back on these days now as a time when character traits of optimism, creativity and exploration took root. In the author’s note at the back of the book is a family photograph from the 1950s of me standing at my typewriter. The smile tells you all you need to know about my optimism for life – now and then.
One of the facets of “Paperboy” of which I am most proud is the way the story can be interpreted by readers of all levels. The first several drafts of my novel were written for a general audience. I’m grateful that my agent and editor encouraged me to take it to middle-grade because I think it helped me cut through clutter and enabled me to tell my story with more purity. However, have you read a middle-grade novel lately that has included the likes of Voltaire, Heidegger, Socrates and Candide? Not to mention Howdy Doody.
My hope is that “Paperboy” imparts to middle-grade readers similar lessons that adult audiences may have derived from “The King’s Speech” and “The Help.”
Please enjoy Little Man, Mam, Ara T, Big Sack and Rat. I certainly enjoyed spending time with them again.
For more information, visit: http://www.vincevawter.com
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