The Shook Look: local author gets involved in students’ lives

By Fred Koschmann

Karl Shook can generally be found mingling with students on or around campus, chatting up the latest in UI sports or the goings-on of the daily lives of students. An on-and-off Champaign resident for 25 years, Shook has become a staple of the local community, a friendly face of one who looks as if he’s no stranger to the streets.

Slinking by in his wheelchair, the first thing you notice about him is that he moves at his own pace, and his individual speed is characteristic of his unique perspective; Shook writes novels with a gothic vision that borderlines science fiction.

“There’s a whole lot of things going on my head – ideas, imaginations, stories,” he said.

Diagnosed with cerebral palsy, Shook wrote the main character of his first novel, The Family Thing, to be ailed with the same. This method allows him to utilize a perspective that he knows so well as a platform from which he can launch his imagination.

Published by iUniverse, the book can be found at IUB in the local authors’ section, on amazon.com, or barnesandnoble.com.

He’s currently working through a writing of epic proportions, tentatively titled The Champion of Moohe, to be broken up into three separate books. He says the work is currently past 100,000 words, yet nowhere near completion.

“It just keeps growing,” Shook said. “The imagination gets ahead of the brain.”

Originally a University student, Shook studied broadcast journalism. He moved on to work as a freelance magazine writer, often returning to Dr. Who, the British science fiction show, as a subject.

Science fiction is a realm with considerable potential, as Shook sees it. He noted that you can make more forthright statements in the writing without a lot of backlash.

Shook has also created his own sports newsletter entitled The Shook Look. It harnesses his considerable interest and knowledge in U of I sports, particularly the football team.

Aside from his work, Shook has many students at the University who call him a friend.

“He’s always willing to listen, no matter what he may have going on in his life,” said Lindsey Dawson, senior in Business. “He’s always interested.”

Dawson also noted the benefits of taking in Shook’s perspective.

“While his book is geared toward young adults, it would benefit students to read, if only to gain an appreciation for who wrote it,” she said.

Nick Kleeman, a junior in LAS, has enjoyed getting to know Shook as well and feels as if he’s learned some valuable lessons from him.

“I’ve learned to take life for what it is,” he claimed.

“I don’t believe in the age difference that other people believe in,” Shook said. “Even though I’m older, I can relate to people.”

As for his disability, Shook has a lot of advice for how people regard the disabled. There are certain things that many people often forget to take into consideration, like parking over the sidewalk, creating an unnecessary nuisance for others.

Also, many people believe that Christopher Reeves did some extraordinary work in giving the disabled public exposure; Shook is not one of those people.

“He gave the idea that it’s horrible to be disabled,” he said. “He made it seem as if everyone who can’t walk is sitting around wishing they could.”

There is a fine line between acknowledging one’s disability and not being able to see past it, as Shook describes it.

“Some people look at me like they want to give me $20,” he said. “Just remember that there is a human being here, not just a wheelchair.”

This is not to be confused with forgetting the wheelchair entirely. He notes that it simply is a part of who he is, despite efforts to look past it.

“I want to be known as a writer with a disability – not a disabled person who writes,” he noted. And his writing speaks for itself, giving everyone the opportunity to veer out from his unique perspective.

“Karl has really taught me the difference between unwilling and unable,” Dawson said. “He makes me want to try harder for the things in life I really want.”