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Inspired by his sons but delayed by success, playwright releases novel

By Sarah Hoye, CNN
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Dad makes good on promise
  • Charles Fuller, Jr. promised his 2 sons he would write a book starring both of them as heroes
  • 40 years later, he's finally finished kids' book "Snatch: The Adventures of David and Me"
  • The book is about two boys who help a runaway slave escape in New York in 1838
  • Fuller became successful after his "A Soldier's Play" was turned into a 1985 film

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (CNN) -- It's better late than never.

Nearly 40 years after coming up with the idea, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Charles Fuller, Jr. released his first novel in June.

The children's book, "Snatch: The Adventures of David and Me," was promised to his sons when they were children.

"This sort of got put on the back burner," said Charles Fuller III, now a master mechanic, while visiting his father at his apartment near downtown Philadelphia. "Here it is."

"I'm glad it's finished," laughed David Fuller, now a youth counselor, from across the kitchen table. "It's a real good story, a real good story. I'm glad I was in it."

The acclaimed writer promised his sons he would create a story where they were heroes in a historical adventure set in antebellum New York, before slavery was abolished.

The parental promise was delayed as his career as a playwright took off.

Still, the brothers never forgot, and the story stayed with their father for decades.

"When these two guys [Charles III and David] were very young ... I thought it'd be a good idea to write a story in which you could put your own children in it and make them heroes of a great saga," Howard Fuller said.

"I don't think there [have] been stories in which African-American kids have been at the center of those tales, in this country, ever."

The book, set in the notorious Five Points neighborhood in New York City in 1838, tells the tale of two brothers, David and Charles, who risk their lives to help a fugitive slave escape.

Moments in the book are ripped from the lives of the real Charles and David, such as whispering and horsing around while their parents slept.

I hope that people who read it enjoy it as much as I've enjoyed doing it.
--Charles Fuller, Jr., author of "Snatch: The Adventures of David and Me"

So which of the Fuller sons is the ringleader?

"In the book or in real life?" asked Charles Fuller before erupting into laughter.

"There are definitely things in the book we did, especially getting into things we weren't supposed to be doing," David added, before he too was overcome with laughter.

"See, it never ends," said the eldest Fuller.

Although set nearly two centuries ago, the story remains relevant in the present day. "Ultimately, that's what the story hopefully tells young people -- that it's not a bad idea to think about other people, that's it's not a bad idea to help somebody, it's not a bad idea to spend your time trying to save a life," Fuller said.

Fuller is best known for "A Soldier's Play," which won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1982, and the film based on that play, "A Soldier's Story," which starred Denzel Washington. The film was nominated for three Academy Awards in 1985: Best Picture, Best Screenplay Adaptation, and Best Supporting Actor.

Fuller's interest in writing began when he discovered there were no books by African-American authors in his high school library, according to his website.

Using the characters he creates, Fuller challenges audiences to reject stereotypes and accept more authentic images of black people.

"Snatch" is no exception.

"Everywhere that the book can get to, and young kids can get their hands on it and read the story, feel a part of the story by asserting themselves in the story, is a good thing," David Fuller said.

The book is full of historical footnotes so readers can research topics of interest to them. It's an added bonus to the adventure, said Charles Fuller III.

"Maybe it'd inspire somebody to write their own 'Adventure of David and Me' based on what inspired them that they picked up here in this book," he said.

Howard Fuller plans to release two additional volumes, and would like to see the book used in Philadelphia public schools.

"I hope that people who read it enjoy it as much as I've enjoyed doing it," he said.

"Snatch" may be the end of a chapter Fuller is happy to close, but reliving the memories of his sons' childhood is certainly worth opening the book again and again.