Christopher Calhoun is an 11-year-old fifth grader at Oak Park’s Longfellow Elementary School with limitless interest. His interest has extended beyond the usual stuff of 11 year olds, and has stretched into the world of publishing and writing.
“I started to write because I saw it as a means of being famous,” said Calhoun, who began writing at the age of nine, deeply influenced by many of the stories his mother Chajuana read to him, such as “Goosebumps” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”
He used the escapist fantasy of those stories and began filling dozens of spirals with sci-fi, action and adventure tales of his own.
Calhoun, with a great deal of help from his enthusiastic mother, would later start his own publishing. He’s already written one book and is currently penning another.
“I saw writing as a way to get myself noticed in the world,” said Calhoun, who developed an insatiable desire to write while attended Living Word Christian Center in Forest Park until the second grade.
“I would get him spiral notebooks and he would just fill them up with children’s fantasy stories,” said Chajuana Calhoun. “I knew it was important that I supported the development of his talent.”
One of his earlier pieces, titled “Heading South of North-America,” which he also wrote with a full index and chapter titles, is about a girl who flees to Mexico to leave her broken home behind.
The work showed that his literary interests were more far-reaching and ambitious than mere science fiction. In his third year of grade school Calhoun transferred to Longfellow Elementary.
Shortly thereafter, he wrote a children’s story called “Heartland.” The book received accolades from friends and school staff, his mother said, prompting her to obtaininformation regarding publishing the book.
“My mother happened to know a friend who would allow us the means of getting our story published,” Chajuana Calhoun said. “However, we faced several difficulties in the planning stage and eventually concluded that she was not the one for us.”
One of the difficulties was the publishing company’s insistence that they pay her $5,000 before she could begin marketing the book. Although their was plenty of support from Living World to raise a thousand of the money, Chajuana felt that there needed to be a way to distribute the book that would be more financially sound and allow her the ability to control the marketing.
Chajuana concluded that the best way to distribute her son’s work was to publish it independently. She decided to work with her son and start a business that would allow them creative control to publish the book themselves.
They started Rainbow Publishing Inc. last November.
Chris’ father, Reginald Hannah, taught him how to design his web page, including its trademark, computerized rainbow across the blue landscape. The company includes several members of the Calhoun family.
Christopher writes the stories and functions as company founder. His father handles the finances and his mom handles the marketing while her sister Imani Hannah helps with the illustrations.
“He chose the publishing company name of Rainbow Publishing Inc. and designed the company web site and logo,” said Chajuana Calhoun. “He really put his all into it,”.
Her son, though, had to learn a few web techniques before the company could get up and running.
“The most difficult thing about doing the web was saving the links of the page,” he said, “and I had a few problems with the text on the page as well, but after I got the hang of it I was able to do the updating with no problem.”
Currently, the Calhoun’s are hoping to expand to Forest Park, Austin and the greater West Side to inspire literacy for all children throughout the schools.
The Calhoun’s have been preparing appearances for Christopher at such as organizations as KidzExpress, located at 342 South Laramie.
On May 14, Calhoun will read to the nearly one hundred area children the program houses every Saturday. He will also read to the children of Mercy House, 4943 W. Quincy, in early May.
“It’s one thing for an adult to come to a class and talk to them about the importance of reading and literacy, they expect that and they might tune them out,” said Chajuana. “However, if one of their peers says it; it takes a whole new level of significance. They will see Chris as one of their peers and reason, ‘hey if he can write and get published maybe I can too.’ They are more inclined to receive his message of literacy because he’s one of them.”
Her son has said that he would like to inspire children to become successful writers and publish their own books.
His first children’s book ‘Heartland’, which focuses on an interplanetary competition between rulers to gain ownership of a third planet called Heartland, is currently available through the website and at Logos bookstore on 101 N. Oak Park.
“I hope to also begin working on a comic book story and eventually get into play and scriptwriting,” he said.
Chajuana doesn’t think all of this activity could hinder her son’s development in other areas later in life.
“Absolutely not,” she insisted. “I think that he serves as an example to other children who may be interested in writing.”
Christopher Calhoun’s website is christophercalhoun.com. The company website is rbpi.org.