Arts + Culture

From Writing to Driving: Craig Davidson’s Journey as a Bus Driver

The author reveals how despite his stellar literary career—one of his books was made into a Hollywood film—he felt he had hit rock bottom.

Craig Davidson has published four books of literary fiction, including Rust and Bone, which was made into a Golden Globe-nominated film starring Marion Cotillard, and Cataract City, which was shortlisted for the Giller Prize and the Trillium Book Prize. The 31-year-old has also written about “boxing and dog fights, zombies and werewolves, vampire and lunatic prison inmates” under the pen names, Patrick Lestewka and Nick Cutter.

But rather than being most impressed with his illustrious career, it was an honest confession that won the crowd at The Word on the Street Toronto Book and Magazine Festival, which took place at Harbourfront on September 25.

“I was 28 and I felt like a failure,” admitted Toronto-born Davidson on the stage coincidentally titled Nothing But The Truth, where he also spoke about his most recent and first non-fiction book, Precious Cargo: My Year Driving the Kids on School Bus 3077. Released in May, the book chronicles Davidson’s year-long experience as a bus driver for a group of children with special needs. How does an award-winning novelist go on to ride a public school bus in Calgary? Desperate and impoverished, Davidson “just didn’t know what to do with his life.” Unable to write, he came across a flyer in his mailbox that read, “Bus Drivers Wanted.” And even though he applied without any fervour to pen down his experience, Davidson found his time on the bus “inspirational.”

And as it turns out, Davidson was quite the driver. His story revolving around five kids—Nadja, Oliver, Gavin, Vincent, and Jake—is a memoir that will move you and, surprisingly, even make you laugh. “I got lucky with the opportunity to meet the kids, even though I had no prior experience working with children,” says Davidson, whose unique relationship with Jake shines throughout the book. “Jake’s life changed when a drunk driver crashed into him and his family—Jake lost his mother and he, himself, was rendered quadriplegic. “He and I became great friends. We went for movies and dinners, and even though he was 16 years old, we were kindred spirits,” says Davidson, who is still in touch with Jake, now 24 years old.

Born in a family where his father is a banker and his mother a nurse, Davidson is not certain “whether he found writing or whether writing found him.” So at 31, does he still feel like a failure? “I feel better. But there’s definitely more pressure to stay in the game. I don’t know if I took all the right steps with this book, but I am happy with it.”

As Davidson settled down at the book signing counter, he was greeted by Holly, a young and grateful fan who told him: “High school wasn’t a good time for me. But my bus driver, well, he was kind—he knew me better than my teachers, so I could relate to your book and I loved it.”

And perhaps, just this once, Davidson did take all the right steps.

(Photo Credit: Toronto Star)

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