Drew Daywalt ’92
Drew Daywalt is the author of New York Times bestsellers The Day the Crayon Came Home and The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors. His most recent book, Sleepy, the Goodnight Buddy, was published in September.
He has won 65 awards for his children’s books, including the E.B. White Read Aloud Award and the TIME magazine Top 100 Children’s Books of All Time. He was a creative writing major at Emerson.
Earlier this fall, he talked to Expression, the magazine of Emerson College.
Q: When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
A: I was just telling my kids this story the other day. I think my first realization that books and movies were actually written and created by other human beings was when I was 7. It was 1977. Summer. And my big sister had taken me to see the first Star Wars film. As the credits rolled at the end, and I sat there trying to catch my breath and fully digest what I’d seen, I saw the screenplay credit. I knew then that I wanted to tell stories.
Q: Before children’s books, you were a screenwriter in Hollywood and a horror writer. Where does your inspiration come from?
A: Whether I’m writing for adults with big action adventure and horror, or for children in animation or picture books, my stories always come from my 7-year-old self. Childhood is a time of total belief in magic. It’s the well from which I always build my worlds, whether they’re horrible or fanciful.
Q: Did you ever imagine your career would take the path it has?
A: No. It’s been crazy! But in a good way! Whenever a creative opportunity presents itself, I never question whether I should do it or not, but rather how I should do it. And that thinking has kept doors open for me, I think. It’s how I went from writing and directing horror to writing The Day the Crayons Quit. I try not to limit myself or view myself through any specific lens.
Q: Who has been most influential in your life?
A: One of my teachers at Emerson was Jack Gantos, and he is one of my favorite people on the planet. And a genius writer. And he saw early on how much I loved the short form children’s writing and the fairy tale, and he nurtured that in me and my writing. Professionally, Jack was the most instrumental in influencing me. More than he probably realized. I hope I make him proud.
Q: Your children’s books are hilarious! How did you come up with the idea for The Day the Crayons Quit?
A: Thank you! When I was graduating Emerson and heading for LA to write screenplays, Jack told me I should be going to New York City to get into children’s publishing. I remember telling him that I wanted to write movies and TV. He said, “That’s too bad because you’re a hell of a children’s book writer.” That compliment stayed with me for years. A decade later, I wrote The Day the Crayons Quit after spilling out a box of old crayons on my desk and thinking it would be funny if they could each give a monologue, chewing me out for using them wrong. And then in 2013, when TDTCQ was published, I reconnected with Jack, who said, “I told ya so.” It was the greatest I-told-you-so of my entire life.
Q: Do you test out your story ideas on your kids?
A: I do. And they’re brutally honest. I’m not Mr. Drew Daywalt around here. I’m just Dad Can I Have a Sandwich. Actually, my daughter is 14 and has become an incredible artist. We’re working on a book together that she is illustrating. It’s a blast to work with them both. The best line in my book The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors I took from my son, who’s 9. In it, one of the main characters tells an anthropomorphized apricot that he looks “like a fuzzy little butt.” The line kills at readings and I always give my son credit. When he saw it in the book, he said, “Hey, you stole my line!” And I said, “Yeah, and I’m paying for your college with it, so relax.”
Q: You regularly speak at elementary schools. What’s the best question a kid has ever asked you?
A: “Can I have a hug, Mr. Daywalt?” The first time a child thanked me for my book and then gave me a hug was one of the greatest moments of my career.
Q: What were you like as a student at Emerson? And how would you describe your Emerson experience?
A: Same as now: a big, goofy nerd who loves comedy, sci-fi, fantasy, and world building. I was one of the editors of Emerson’s Hyena comedy magazine. There were also lots of black clothes and some beer, I think. For me, Emerson was a time of unbridled creativity and laughter. It was a phenomenal time in my life. It also was where I realized how fun it was to collaborate with other creative people. There aren’t even words to describe how it shaped me for the rest of my life.
Q: What would your readers be surprised to learn about you?
A: That I’m a full-time dairy farmer. I think that they’d be really surprised at that. I mean, I’m not a dairy farmer at all, but I think if they heard that, they’d be like, “No kidding, seriously? That’s crazy.”
Q: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
A: It was from my dad, who was a fireman and a security guard in Ohio. When I packed up to leave for Los Angeles after college, he said, “I don’t know much about movie making or Hollywood, but just be nice and work hard, son.”