Rita Williams-Garcia is the New York Times bestselling author of nine novels for young adults and middle grade readers. Her most recent novel, Gone Crazy in Alabama ends the saga of the Gaither Sisters, who appear in One Crazy Summer and PS Be Eleven. Her novels have been recipients of numerous awards, including the Coretta Scott King Award, National Book Award Finalists, Newbery Honor Book, Junior Library Guild, and the Scott O’Dell Prize for Historical Fiction. She served on faculty at the Vermont College of Fine Arts Writing for Children MFA Program and she resides in Queens, New York.
I always asked for a pencil and paper in kindergarten while my classmates colored pictures. By twelve, I was sending short stories to magazines only to be politely rejected. My family had just moved back to Jamaica, New York after a short stint in Georgia, and before that, California. My sister, brother and I weren’t allowed to play outside in Queens, New York, so I entertained myself by writing stories. I sold my first short story to Highlights Magazine at 14, and sold another to Essence magazine six years later while a student at Hofstra. It was at Hofstra that I studied with authors Richard Price and Sonia Pilcer. The character Joyce (originally named Tawanda) in BLUE TIGHTS grew out of a character sketch from my Hofstra days.
BLUE TIGHTS was eventually published in the late eighties when I was thirty. 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. Decades later, BLUE TIGHTS can still be found in libraries. I like to encourage aspiring writers and young readers to follow their dreams, even in the face of rejection or many, many retries. Follow your dreams anyway! You learn so much with each and every try.
One of the best parts of having my writing dreams come true is meeting my readers! I’m not a big fan of flying, but meeting my readers makes it all worthwhile. I’m always amazed by their classwork based on the books, their comments and questions.
My writing life is simple. I daydream, observe, listen to music, read, research, love art and I move. I never know what will strike me as an idea or when it will come. With ONE CRAZY SUMMER, it was the image of kids involved with the Black Panther movement of the 1960s. With BOTTLE CAP BOYS it was children dancing in the streets of New Orleans. I try to stay open to images and ideas. I like being excited by the story I’m dying to write.