Rita Williams-Garcia is the bestselling author of picture books for young readers and novels for young adults and middle grade readers — including Clayton Byrd Goes Underground and her trilogy about the Gaither sisters (One Crazy Summer, PS Be Eleven, and Gone Crazy in Alabama). Many of her books are rooted in recent American history and all her stories brim with the authentic voices of young people. Her novels have received numerous awards, including the Coretta Scott King Award, National Book Award Finalist, Newbery Honor Book, and Scott O’Dell Prize for Historical Fiction.
In this interview, you'll learn about the origins of One Crazy Summer, why Williams-Garcia always does deep research for her books, and what she does to push through writer's block (it might surprise you!).
Williams-Garcia was born in Queens, New York. Her father was in the military, so they moved around — from Queens, New York to Arizona, California, Georgia — and then back to Queens, close to her grandmother's house and the public library. From an early age, Williams-Garcia entertained herself by writing stories. She sold her first short story to Highlights Magazine at age 14.
Williams-Garcia graduated from Hofstra University in 1980, where she studied with authors Richard Price and Sonia Pilcer. The character, Joyce, in her first published book, Blue Tights, grew out of a character sketch from her Hofstra days. She says, "It was so important to me tell this story about a girl with great talent but low self-esteem. I had seen so many “Joyces” but not enough books to tell their story. It took seven years and many typewritten drafts to get this novel right."
Williams-Garcia has published more than 10 books for children and young adults. One Crazy Summer is a middle grade novel set in 1968, that reunites three sisters (Delphine, Vonetta and Fern) with the mother who abandoned them and is now living in Oakland and involved with the Black Panthers.The book won the 2011 Newbery Honor Award, Coretta Scott King Award, and Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction. She rounded out this family story with two more novels: PS Be Eleven and Gone Crazy in Alabama. Her 2017 book Clayton Byrd Goes Underground, about a boy who plays the blues harmonica with his grandfather, was recognized as a National Book Award Finalist.
Williams-Garcia has written a number of lively picture books for young readers, including Catching the Wild Waiyuuzee and Bottle Cap Boys: Dancing on Royal Street, a joyous story set in New Orleans. She has also written powerful books for young adults that tackle tough subjects like teen pregnancy (see additional clips from our interview at our sister site, AdLit.org).
Her advice for young writers: "Write a little bit every day. I began by writing 500 words a day, but I think 25-100 words a day, every day will help a beginning writer gain confidence and a flow of thoughts and writing. Read widely! Be adventurous with your reading. ;Nothing helps writing like having the sound of good writing in your mind’s ear. Try new things. New foods. Visit new places. Then write about your experiences."
Williams-Garcia teaches at the Vermont College of Fine Arts Writing for Children MFA Program and lives in Queens, New York. Learn more, at the official Rita Williams-Garcia website.