The Creative Force of Norton Juster

by Cristy Meiners, producer

Growing up in the West, sunsets were a big deal.  In my Ojai, California days, the nightly sunset was a city-wide institution.  Ojai is the only town I know that has a name for the moment when the sun goes down every evening.  “The Pink Moment” is when the sun hits the east side of the valley, and turns the Topatopa Mountains blush pink.  As a kid, I often angled to be outside when the Moment hit, to see my familiar mountains all dressed up for the night.   When my family moved on to Utah, my nightly attempt to watch the sun go down didn’t stay behind.  Utah, with its lovely mixture of the Great Salt Lake, desert air, and some well-placed refineries, provided more than pink moments: these were orange, red, yellow, purple and sometimes blue moments, swirled and layered.   And so when, at age 14, I first read of Norton Juster’s Chroma, the conductor of sunsets, I knew this man had to exist.  I’d been to plenty of symphony concerts with my parents, and I had watched how those conductors drew the music out of the musicians… if they could create music, then why NOT colors from the air?

That’s the appeal of The Phantom Tollbooth: it rings true, even if to some it seems absurd.   Writer Norton Juster is the kind of interviewee I hunt for here at work; insightful about his work, and always willing to tell his story, even when we make him reach back and tell nearly-forgotten (and perhaps misbegotten) stories from his youth (like The Navy News Service).   I recently re-read The Phantom Tollbooth and was surprised to find that this book is more than the whimsical adventure book I remember as child; much like its creator, it’s wise in a very easy-going way.  Juster may not be out creating sunsets, but like Chroma, he has a knack for creating beauty out of thin air.    

Juster’s latest book, also illustrated by his old friend Jules Feiffer is called The Odious Ogre.

Also, during the conversation, Juster mentioned a book by C. P. Snow but couldn’t recall the title. It is The Two Cultures.