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'Paperboy' author to speak in Paducah

By MASON BLANFORD mblanford@paducahsun.com

The main character of the novel "Paperboy" -- an 11-year-old boy named Victor -- avoids commas when he can. A comma is a pause in speech, he says, and as a lifelong stutterer he's dealt enough in pauses.

Author and Memphis, Tennessee, native Vince Vawter began penning the novel to make children with stuttering problems feel less alone.

During a 1959 summer in Memphis, Victor agrees to take over a paper route -- and its customers -- for his best friend "Rat."

A daunting task given his speech impediment.

The author first put ink to paper in 2006 for Victor's story, but it began much earlier with a young boy up in his room "pouring his heart out" on a typewriter.

"That's what I wanted (the story) to feel like," Vawter said. "About where he found himself, and his confusion about what was wrong with him."

"And then I wanted him to realize there was never anything wrong with him. The only thing different about him is that he happens to stutter, and there's nothing wrong with that."

Maybe it was inevitable the young boy with the typewriter grew up to have a career spanning 40 years in the newspaper industry.

After retiring from the Evansville Courier & Press in Evansville, Indiana, as its publisher and president, Vawter dove into heavy research with books about people with stuttering problems. When he couldn't find a voice that satisfied him, he decided to use his own.

The winner of the 2014 Newberry Honor Award, "Paperboy" is now in its 11th U.S. printing. The story of a boy who struggled to say his name in front of the class has now been told in eight different languages.

"It's a story I knew I would always write. While it's a novel, it's actually almost an autobiography," he said. "There is some fiction in it, but the vast majority of the story comes right out of my childhood," adding he stills keeps in touch with best friend "Rat" today.

Since the book's 2013 publication, Vawter has traveled nationwide, speaking at more than 100 schools and conferences -- including for nonprofits like the National Stuttering Association and the Stuttering Foundation of America.

He credits the sometimes debilitating issue for sharpening a natural empathy -- in life and in several newsrooms.

"I was fairly comfortable in management, and I think the reason was that I seemed to have an empathy for people with their own personal problems," he said. "Which is just about everybody when it comes down to it."

In his own words, it's "turned out awfully well."

"I still stutter some," he said. "But I think it's important I show people there's nothing wrong with a stutter. I'm always proud to share my story and find that people respond to it."

Far from speaking for a cure, Vawter said it's ultimately about self-acceptance.

This year the author plans to announce a "Paperboy" sequel about Victor, now six years older, transitioning from high school into the real world.

He hopes that as Victor finds his voice, readers who identify with him will do the same.

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