07/18/2013 06:39 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

An Entrepreneur and a Writer: Christopher Paul Curtis

It all began with a chance remark by Karen Pritzker: "Well, you must know Christopher Paul Curtis. I am financing his work and he is from Flint as well."

I changed the subject, embarrassed as I drew a blank; but in the middle of the night, I woke up remembering Chris Curtis, now Christopher Paul Curtis, who is perhaps the top children's books author of his time. His sister was my high school crush, and she was the prettiest girl in school and had the smartest boyfriend as well.

My close friend in high school, when we sat near to each other in Mr. Plourd's English class. He was the top teacher at our school, Flint Southwestern High School, and we were both proud to be in his class during senior year. Chris and I shared literary interests and wanted to become famous writers. I still remember vividly the day I came to school bubbling over with excitement about having finished Frankenstein. Now, 40 years later, I am reminded how we share a love for that great work.

Remarkably, I was always aware of his books but never realized they were written by my dear friend. These books are so well written and distinct, and they feature African-American children from our town -- Flint, Michigan. My favorite is The Watsons Go to Birmingham, telling a story about a family traveling south in 1963. His books have sold over 3.5 million copies and he has won almost every award an author can win.

After my recall, I waited a day to call as I was too excited. The voice I recognized from 40 years before picked up the phone and it all came back to me: "Hello Christopher, it is Steve Mariotti from Flint." As though only a day had gone by, we talked excitedly, and he and his wife came to our class reunion in Flint a month later. We met again after I spent a week reading everything he had written, my chest bursting with pride as I took him and his wife around the West Village, touring my neighborhood.

He was kind enough to remember my mother Nancy Mariotti from when she was his eighth grade teacher at Flint McKinley Middle School. He closed his eyes in sadness when I told him of her death after a ten long years in a coma.

Curtis makes his living from royalties on his book sales. Per standards in the publishing industry, that is about 5-10 percent of his total sales, depending on hard cover book sales versus paperbacks. Chris was able to do this -- make his living from his writing -- by creating and sustaining a brand for himself, and promoting his competitive advantage. This should inspire students everywhere to take what they love, what they will work hard to do, and combine it with entrepreneurial skills. I hope that telling Chris' story will help clarify what it takes to be a successful small business owner. Next, I will write about other entrepreneurs I have encountered around the world to help inspire more small business owners. For now, bravo to Mr. Curtis on his success as an author. What a wonderful friend -- then and now -- Chris is.


Me with Christopher Paul Curtis, his beautiful wife Habon and their baby