Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis was published in 1999. Like his main character Bud, Curtis grew up in Flint, Michigan.
Curtis drew many of the book's events from the actual circumstances of the Great Depression and stories of the 1930s passed down through his family. He especially wanted to show the plight of African Americans during the 1930s. Only a subset of jobs were open to African Americans during the 1920s, a time of economic prosperity, and when the Great Depression hit, many of those jobs disappeared. Two of the available jobs were redcap (railway porter) and musician/entertainer, jobs held by Curtis' two grandfathers. Curtis bases the characters of Lefty Lewis and Herman E. Calloway on these two men. Curtis also wished to portray the importance of music during the Depression as an escape and a rare source of joy during difficult times. Curtis uses Bud's journey to dramatize the plight of children in the Depression. At the time many children, orphans or not, had to make solo journeys, do odd jobs, ride the rails, beg, and steal in order to obtain food.
Reviews of the book were almost universally positive. The Christian Science Monitor stated, “The book is a gem, of value to all ages, not just the young people to whom it is aimed,” and in a starred review Publishers Weekly claimed it would “keep readers engrossed from first page to last.” The New York Times praised it as “a book that is funny, eloquent, deeply sad and delightful (usually all at once).”
Bud, Not Buddy won the Newbery Medal, the award for best children's book, and the Coretta Scott King Award, an award for exemplary African American authors, in 2000. Carolyn S. Brodie, chair of the Newbery Award Selection Committee, extolled the book: “This heartfelt novel resonates with both zest and tenderness as it entertains questions about racism, belonging, love, and hope...Bud's fast-paced first-person account moves with the rhythms of jazz and celebrates life, family, and a child's indomitable spirit."
The novel was adapted to the stage and was first performed at the Langston Hughes Cultural Arts Center in 2006.