Christopher Klim, professor of journalism at the College, describes his beginning as humble. Certainly, those who once called him “stupid” and “slow” did not expect him to earn degrees in physics as well as computer science, work for the space program and publish five books, with his latest fiction piece, “Idiot!,” near completion.
“People who meet me now cannot bridge my childhood image and the adult manifestation,” Klim said.
Hindered by dyslexia, Klim’s childhood education was an uphill struggle, with few voices of encouragement – except his second grade teacher, Mrs. Marquette, and his mother.
“(Marquette) didn’t know how to help me,” Klim says, “but (she) encouraged me to find my own way.”
Like most dyslexics, Klim learned how to cope with his disability, finding his “own way” by memorizing images of letters, numbers and words in order to read and write. By the time he began attending Rutgers University in 1980, he was able to complete all assignments knowing that it would take him longer than his classmates.
In spite of the adversity, Klim never stopped dreaming. “My head was full of stories, and I needed to get them down on paper,” he said. “Against all logic, I wanted to be a writer.”
But writing would have to wait a few years. Having graduated from Rutgers in 1984, Klim had his sights set on the space program. He was quickly accepted into NASA’s civilian end and began working on “LandSat,” which he described as “a geosynchronous orbiting body that took weather photos.” Klim proceeded to work on a number of other projects, including a few military satellites and, most prominently, the satellite Mars Observer, which was utilized to map out the surface of the planet to pave the way for future landings.
“Unfortunately, my most memorable experience (in the space program) was the day Challenger blew up,” Klim said. He acknowledges that despite the space program’s importance in society, a change in personal direction was necessary. “The shuttle was grounded,” he said. “The program looked to be in disarray. It seemed like time to move on.”
The transition into writing would be no easy process, but then again, Klim is no stranger to adversity.
“The problem was and still is breaking into the business (of writing), getting people to believe that you can do it,” he said. Klim calls it a Catch 22 – you often need credentials to gain access but you cannot get credentials without access.
Klim went about convincing his superiors of his writing abilities and gaining credentials in a different way. He took on the undesirable assignments and by doing so, was able to demonstrate his distinct journalistic approach.
“Often (I) was writing copy about the giant pumpkin or the high school car wash,” Klim said. “I made them funny and exotic because dyslexics see everything differently.”
Having established himself as a reliable news reporter, Klim branched out into other areas of journalism. Klim currently writes literary journalism for publications such as Writers Notes Magazine, of which he is the senior editor and a creator.
For Klim, the distinction between literary journalism and fiction composition is narrow, and the transition from one to the other is natural. “There is creativity to fashioning prose to not only represent the facts, yet tell them in a compelling way,” he said. “Even in fiction, you must be honest to the subject matter.”
Klim names the rouge gonzo journalist, Hunter S. Thompson, as having an impact on his writing.
“Thompson showed me that I could move outside the known constructs of society and win, but when the chips were down, Thompson was a fearless reporter,” Klim said.
Much like William Faulkner, Klim chooses to utilize the “marginalized members of society” as his characters. “By isolating the primary subject matter, we get a better view and then ultimately see ourselves in that person,” he said. “A good story holds a mirror to our lives.”
Klim uses this approach in his latest book, “Idiot!,” which he describes as the story of “a severe dyslexic who has the information to save a failing New Jersey Pine Barrens cranberry community, but he is perceived as the village idiot and no one respects him.” In his quest, the protagonist encounters other downtrodden characters who must confront “significant adversity as well as their personal demons.”
“Idiot!” has already earned the praise of many authors prior to its release, and two of Klim’s novels, including “Idiot!,” have attracted the attention of two major Hollywood production companies. It may not be long before Klim’s dreams are projected onto the silver screen.
Klim has spent a lifetime defying the adversity and exceeding the expectations of those who once considered him “stupid” or the “slow kid.” Somehow, along the way, he never lost faith in his vision. Klim says that he has always heeded the advice given to a young Bob Dylan in Greenwich Village: “No fear, no jealousy and no bitterness.”