Tim Crothers is a UNC professor and sportswriter. He’s a former senior writer for Sports Illustrated. He’s written a book on Roy Williams. He’s written a book on UNC women’s soccer coach Anson Dorrance. But he’s mostly known as the author of “The Queen of Katwe.” It’s a book about a Ugandan girl named Phiona Mutesi who learns to play chess, and finds out she’s talented. She then begins to succeed in so many competitions that she dreams to become a grandmaster, or a highest-class chess champion.
Crothers said someone pitched him the story idea because they’d heard about it through a church newsletter. He says within three months, he was on a plane to Uganda to travel to Katwe, one of the country’s largest slums, and where Mutesi is from.
“When you first walk into Katwe, it’s obviously not anything that I had seen before,” he said. “It takes awhile to get accustomed to it but I met a girl who was clearly someone who had done something extraordinary.”
Listen to Crothers’ interview with Aaron Keck on WCHL.
He said that extraordinary thing was that one day, she was a ten-year-old selling maize in the street market to survive, and the next she dropped in on an after-school program run by missionary Robert Katende. Katende taught her to play chess through the program.
“I spoke to Robert at that point, very early in the process and I told him that this was going to be a little bigger than a magazine story,” Crothers said. “Which is what I had originally intended it to be. This had the potential to be a book, and at that point I had no idea that it would be also a movie at some point, but I knew we were at the beginning of something big.”
And it was. The original story about Mutesi expanded to a book. The book was then picked up by Disney. The company optioned the rights to the book and then began filming in 2012. The film came out last year.
Crothers said it’s important for people to understand all that’s behind “The Queen of Katwe.”
“This isn’t just the story about Uganda and chess,” he said. “But it’s a story about an underdog, a story about a girl who had no business accomplishing what she’s done, and doing so, nonetheless… and the impact that can have on other people.”
Crothers said Mutesi’s story is meant to not only showcase the hardships she’s overcome in becoming a Woman Candidate Master, but also to motivate others to accomplish their hopes and dreams.
“What we wanted to do through the story is inspire people to figure out whatever it is that is their passion,” he said. “Whether it be chess or… whatever it might be. We want them to have a dream.”
Crothers will be at the Chapel Hill Public Library Thursday from 4:00 P.M. to 5:00 P.M. for Friends of Chapel Hill Public Library’s latest meet the author. There will be refreshments at 3:30 and the event is free to the public.
Photos via TimCrothers.net.