Acclaimed Screenwriter and Playwright Charles H. Fuller, Authors First Children’s Book
SNATCH: The Adventures of David and Me in Old New York
Mr. Fuller’s rich, multi-layered children’s adventure novel provides a glimpse into the little known history of life for free blacks in antebellum New York during the 1830s. Both historically authentic and entertaining, “Snatch” is a must read for book lovers of all ages. Snatch is an adventure story about two brothers, David and Charles, ‘free’ black kids, living in the ‘Five Points’ neighborhood of antebellum New York City in 1838.’
While fishing in the Hudson River on a day in September, they meet a fugitive slave named Freddie Johnson who they manage to help elude a gang of slave catchers led by a mysterious man, called ‘Snatch.’ The gang is intent on returning escaped slaves or shanghaied ‘free blacks’ to the South and slavery for a bounty. Over thirty-six hours, the two brothers engineer a wild chase and escape, through the streets and tunnels of Old New York helped by the ‘Brewery Witches’ a trio of girls from the neighborhood. During this adventure they manage to involve ‘Five Points,’ their parents, and the ‘Vigilance Committee,’ as well as coming close to exposing the identity of ‘Snatch.
Intimate Conversation with Charles H. Fuller, Jr.
Charles H. Fuller, Jr. is the author of A Soldier’s Play and the 1982 recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, Best American Play, New York Critics Circle Award, Edgar Allen Poe Award for Mystery Writing and the 1985 Academy Award Nominee for Best Screenplay for the motion picture ‘A Soldier’s Story.’ Mr. Fuller began writing plays in the mid-sixties and soon went on to co-found the Afro-American Arts Theatre in his native Philadelphia. He is a member of the Writers Guild of America and Board Member of the Dramatists Guild Fund. He continues to urge his audience to reject old images and stereotypes in order to accept more realistic Black characters.
After a long history in Theatre and Film, Snatch: The Adventures of David and Me in Old New York, is Mr. Fuller’s first venture into the world of children’s books. Snatch: The Adventures of David & Me in Old New York is Volume 1 of a three volume series of young adult novels. Charles H. Fuller, Jr. is presently working on AMERICAN STORY a new play commissioned by Cherry Lane Theatre in New York as part of their 2010-2011 season. Read Charles’ full biography here. http://www.davidandmeinnyc.com/fullerbio.html
BPM: Why did you decide to self-publish SNATCH: The Adventures of David and Me in Old New York?
CHF: I wanted to get the book in the hands of children through the school systems and libraries. We felt that we could do a better job at that than a publishing house.
BPM: How did you come up with the title, SNATCH?
CHF: The title was always ‘The Adventures of David and Me in Old New York’ but after the story was written my wife and I felt that since a character called Snatch, who kidnapped freemen and caught runaway slaves for money, was at the heart of the story we decided to title the story ‘SNATCH: The Adventures of David and Me in Old New York’
BPM: What did you hope to accomplish with it, besides just writing a novel for children?
CHF: Firstly, to create a story that young people and people of all ages would enjoy even though it took place in the past. Secondly, exploit the history of the period and describe how black Americans lived, struggled, survived, helped one another and fought against slavery in the north during the era when slavery existed throughout much of the United States.
BPM: What was your inspiration, as an author, for writing SNATCH? What compelled you to put the story down in tangible form?
CHF: My two sons were my inspiration. I also had the idea that black kids needed to have adventure stories in which they could see themselves as the heroes who have the power to change the world in which they live, if they choose to do so. At the time and since, many of the stories for our children have centered around great men and women whose lives they are asked to emulate. I decided I’d give my sons something that would be fun, inspirational and exciting – something to rival the best adventures in American storytelling.
BPM: What is it that makes SNATCH unique? How is it different from the other children’s books on the market?
CHF: Snatch has perils, thrills and uncertainty. It is still a story in which the history, as well as the tale itself is important. It has footnotes to give the reader information about the period in which it takes place. There is a Teacher’s Guide that accompanies the book because we felt very strongly that Teachers would use the story to teach history, language arts, math and social studies in the school system.
BPM: If kids could take away one thing from reading SNATCH, what would you hope that would be?
CHF: That it was an enjoyable story that they would encourage all their friends to read and then sit down and talk about, because they had learned something about our history in America they never knew before they read Snatch.
BPM: How did you get your start in the arts? What motivated you to pursue a career in the theater?
CHF: I decided to become a writer because myself and my best friend Larry Neal found that in the high school we attended, there were no books written by African-Americans in our library. Of course this was a long time ago, but the impetus was to correct what we felt was a major deficiency in the education we were getting in those days. My connection to theatre grew out of a job I had as a Housing Inspector. I worked in a mixed neighborhood — blacks, Hispanics and whites — largely poor people and I wrote sketches (short plays) that called on locals to lock their doors, watch their kids — simple things that I felt could improve the neighborhood — a woman came into the area and asked me to try to write a play that could be entered with a group of plays that McCarter Theatre in Princeton, New Jersey was considering for its 1968 season. I wrote ‘The Village, A Party’ they liked it, and that began my connection to the theatre.
BPM: What do you like most about your profession?
CHF: I like the immediacy of a play in the theatre. It goes up, you know right away if it is working or not — if it isn’t you know immediately — the audience tells you. If it does, that same audience applauds – what can be faster than that?
BPM: What is your biggest challenge in business? How did you overcome it?
CHF: My biggest challenge was one felt collectively by the playwrights I grew up with in the theatre — Ed Bullins, Richard Wesley, Aisha Rahman, Samm Art Williams, Amiri Baraka, Alice Childress, Ron Milner, Leslie Lee, Joe Walker, Lonnie Elder — we all were trying to break through the racial barriers of the times and force our voices and ‘who-we-are’ onto the canvas that was America at the time. We overcame the challenge that a deaf and largely blind country presented by persevering — pushing until the nation stopped, saw and listened.
BPM: You co-founded the Afro-American Arts Theater in Philadelphia in the 1960s. Do you feel that with musicals such as FELA! and Broadway plays such as Fences, RACE, The Color Purple, and the revival of Raisin in the Sun is indicative of a movement on Broadway to tell more stories related to the black experience?
CHF: FELA! and RACE are new, but Fences, Raisin In The Sun, and The Color Purple have been with us for awhile, and I believe harkens back to another time. Lynn Nottage’s ‘Ruined’ is what’s new. Katori Hall’s ‘Voodoo Love’ is new. Susan Lori Parks, ‘Book of Grace’ is new. Tarell Alvin McCraney’s ‘The Brother/Sister Plays’ is new. Branden Jacobs Jenkins, ‘Neighbors’ is new. And I believe their emergence and staying power should be supported. I don’t believe there is any new desire on the part of theatre to showcase more blacks — this moment can disappear as quickly as it arrived. WE need to support our playwrights with the same enthusiasm WE support our hip-hop artists — or develop a desire among OUR young people to tell our stories on stage.
BPM: You recently decided to publish your first young adult historical novel, SNATCH: The Adventures of David and Me in Old New York. This is a departure from the stage. What brought about this decision and how have you found the book publishing world to differ from the theater?
CHF: I promised my two sons Charles, III and David Ira Fuller when they were 11 and 8, and I was living between New York and Philadelphia, that I would write a history story in which they would be the heroes. In the process, I wanted to describe the life of African-Americans in the North before the end of slavery. I did the research, wrote the outline and — (cut) — my life as a playwright began, and I didn’t get to it for more than forty years. But I had made a promise and I intended to keep it — so, I did just that and they got their story at ages 45 and 42. Their response was, ‘It’s about time!’ The book publishing business is very hard and requires a lot of hard work. I can honestly say, the reason I am doing it myself is that everyone I spoke to before doing it, said it couldn’t be done. And there is a chance that they may be right — but ‘fail’ is not an English word I ever understood.
BPM: You are the recipient of a Pulitzer Prize for your play, A Soldier’s Story, which is obviously a major accomplishment and honor. What advice would you give someone just starting out as a playwright or author?
CHF: Read a lot, write a lot and persevere. Human life is built around stories we tell each other about ourselves — we never tire of it, so there is always something to write about and there will always be an audience for whatever it is as long as it’s about us. We are nothing if not narcissistic.
BPM: What message do you hope readers will take away from SNATCH?
CHF: I hope whoever reads it enjoys the adventure and delights in the way it’s told. Also I hope that people will begin to understand that the world of ‘freemen and women’ in the North before the end of slavery was no bed of roses. Despite our difficulties, we always cherished one another, helped one another and whenever there was a chance we could disrupt those who were out to harm us, we did everything in our power to do so — from child to adult. Finally, I hope young people will learn that they have the power to act on behalf of us all — to save a life — to save a community with just the power of their determination.
BPM: What are three things all leaders possess?
CHF: I can’t imagine three things all leaders possess — one thing I think they possess is the power to convince us that following them will lead us to a state — real or imagined — that is better than the one in which we exist when they arrive. They can’t suggest that we can get to that better place on our own — the term leader always implies followers.
BPM: How do you feel that your work has impacted people?
CHF: I’m not sure how it’s impacted my audiences. I’ve always tried to make sure we defined ourselves and not be lazy enough to believe that someone else can do it for us — or to do it better than we can, or that whatever the stereotype is, it’s not even close to who we really are. Our humanity is largely overlooked whenever we’re examined by others. I hope my work has helped to change some of that.
Visit the official website of SNATCH to learn more about Charles H. Fuller, Jr.: http://www.davidandmeinnyc.com/home.html
For interviews with Charles H. Fuller, Jr. or to request a review copy of SNATCH: The Adventures of David and Me in Old New York, please contact Dawn Roberts at 215.704.2615 or Dawn@KDComm.com.
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