Award-winning actress and philanthropist Jamie Lee Curtis doesn’t tire of talking about literature and libraries. “I could do this all day,” says Curtis, New York Times bestselling author of 11 children’s books, including This Is Me: A Story of Who We Are and Where We Came From (Workman Publishing, September). She sat down with American Libraries to discuss inspiration, gaming, and advocacy.
Your new book, This Is Me: A Story of Who We Are and Where We Came From, explores themes of immigration and origin. Was there anything about the current climate in this country that compelled you to cover these themes?
This is not a political book. Every person has an immigrant story in their family, and we’re losing that thread. I thought it was important to connect that thread back to who we are and where we all came from.
The Holocaust [is taught] to German elementary school students by bringing in a suitcase, and having the students think about exodus and having to leave with all of their possessions and understanding then that they are separating from the rest of their life. [The suitcase in my book is] an idea that has been around a long time—I just encapsulated it for 1st-graders and kindergartners.
It’s a book about adventure. Immigration, travel, moving, and movement is about the adventure of a new world. And it’s an object lesson in how much of us is our stuff, how much of us is our blood, how much of us is our experience, and what equation do you add up to say, “This is you, this is me, this is who we are.”
Has your creative process in writing for children changed any now that your own kids are grown?
It’s very moving to hear that question, because that’s not a question I normally get asked.
The wacky thing is that I write books very fast. I don’t really think about it, and then it just pops into my head and comes out almost fully formed. Often it’s because I’m around young people and I have a very good ear. My skill is that I have an attuned antenna. I wait and then the book shows up. I’ll edit it after, I’ll change a thing here or there, but for the most part it shows up almost complete.
The cosplay photos of you and your son at the Warcraft film premiere were amazing. What role does gaming have in your family?
Children are extraordinary people. They will introduce you to things that you never thought you’d have interest in and have a life with. Or you can make them little versions of you, which is easier on some level, but I think you’re restricting who they actually are.
We ended up with a kid who’s a gamer, and it’s been a challenge because there are so many pejoratives with gaming. But at some point it was a thing of, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em—and beat ’em.” You can either hate it or you can get involved. That’s what we’ve chosen to do. Our son has been a gamer his whole life, and we’ve basically allowed him to explore that world as much as he can. He’s gone to school for it; he’s gone to gaming academies where he’s learned coding.
My son is about to move out, and already we’re talking about going to BlizzCon this year. He sends me these little pictures saying, “Here’s your costume.” My 20-year-old son texts me—just that alone [has] been a great pleasure.
What role have libraries played in transforming you or your family?
When you go to any school around the country, the first thing you want to know is “Do they have a library?” and it’s shocking how many don’t. It’s shocking how many day-care centers don’t have little libraries. The import of a library in a society is crucial, and it seems to be, just like music and art education is no longer a requirement in schools, libraries are an old idea that we need to bring back.
When my children were little, in the Los Angeles Public Library system you could take 20 books at a time, go in with your wagon and fill it, and we did that weekly. That was just a big part of our life, was going to libraries.
They’re tremendously important, and in areas that don’t have them, it’s something that families can link together [for]. I really believe there’s a lot of advocacy that can be done, and a lot of volunteerism that can be stimulated, simply if a library is not in a central part of a school or community’s life.
When American Libraries interviewed you eight years ago, we asked if you had any plans to write adult books. Is the answer still no?
When you get old and you think that you’re going to die—which is a reality that all of us hit at a different point in our lives—you start to think, “Whoa, okay, what haven’t I done and what do I need to do?” That’s something that’s very exciting and helpful for people, and I’m at that point where I’m on fire.
I certainly will never write a novel, and if I write a short story and throw it up into the universe, it would never be under my name. But I feel like I have something I’d like to say.
My guess is no. I’m a reader. All I do is devour people’s writing.