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Rita Williams-Garcia on Life and Writing

This has been a good year for Rita Williams-Garcia.

A very good year. All one month of it.

2009 wasn't too bad, either.

Before last year, Rita's other six distinguished novels hadn't done too badly. LIKE SISTERS ON THE HOME FRONT was a Coretta Scott King Honor Book. Her other titles have made almost every list you'd ever want to be included on, from the ALA Best Book for Young Adults list, to being named a Best Book of the Year by the Horn Book, PW, and SLJ.

Then, in 2009, Rita moved another notch up when her book JUMPED was named a National Book Award Finalist. So far this year, her newest book, ONE CRAZY SUMMER, a story about three sisters meeting their estranged mother in Oakland in 1968 at the height of the Black Panther movement, was first reviewed in the New York Times Book Review section on January 17th and then went on to be named a NT Times Editor's Choice book on January 24th. 

We can all hardly wait to see what February's going to bring.

Those of us who know how doggedly Rita works, and how tenacious she is in sitting herself down and doing the hard work, day after day, even when she doesn't feel like it, understands that hers is the true success story: there's no way around it; you gotta go straight through it; it's hard work, sweat, and tears and whatever else you use for inspiration; and don't kid yourself. As one of her former students, I can tell you that while it's hard to tie Rita down in person because of the incredible energy that seems to course through her body and mind, non-stop, most of the time, her letters about a student's work are a marvel of quiet, thoughtful, and incisive observation.

She is one, daunting personality.

So, in light of Rita's success, we wanted to ask her about her writing life so that everyone who visits the tollbooth might learn and be inspired. Rita talked to us about creativity, her impressive productivity, quitting the day job, and what it means for her to be involved with the MFA program. Here's what she said about ONE CRAZY SUMMER and what it feels like to be in what she calls "NYT Heaven" :

Is it ethical to send boxes of chocolate to the reviewer (Monica Edinger)?  A NY Times review has always been what I wanted for Christmas.  And a good review!  Sharing it with my colleagues and the students up at VCFA made it even more special.  Okay.  If I were home in New York, I’d be stopping strangers on the subway, telling them to turn to the centerfold of the NY Times Book Review.  I’d be wearing a dress made of my printed review.

 

I loved writing OCS. I loved my girls.  I even loved Cecile.  I wanted to share my childhood and events that I saw that are now history.  Like Delphine, I was glued to the news.  My father was in Vietnam.  I heard Robert F. Kennedy speak at Monterey Airport—I even took a picture with him.  Unfortunately, we were never sent a copy.  As much as The Black Panthers were militant, they were a grassroots neighborhood presence and served their communities. 

 

My mother went to Monterey Pop festival and left my sister, brother, and I at home—perhaps a good choice.  I’m grateful to have grown up in my neighborhood in the sixties.  My sister, brother and I were kids in every respect.  We played hard outdoors, kickball, dodge ball, ring clapping games, bike riding, skate boarding, homemade go-kart riding, fruit tree raiding.  I wanted to create all of that for the reader; tumultuous times and kids being kids. 


Tomorrow I'll post some more of Rita's thoughts. I'm also hoping to talk to her this week about how she produced two such successful, yet diametrically opposed, books so close to one another. Did she work on one as a kind of relief from the other? And why are both of them about three girls? And how did she capture such different voices? And if she takes some sort of special pill, what's it called?



 
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