YA novelist Rita Williams-Garcia recently received a Coretta Scott King Book Award for Gone Crazy in Alabama. This is the third time Williams-Garcia has received the prestigious award for a book in her One Crazy Summer series, which follows sisters Delphine, Vonetta and Fern as they navigate life in the turbulent 1960s. Williams-Garcia lives in Queens, N.Y., and is on the faculty at the Vermont College of Fine Arts in the writing for children and young adults program.
What's on your nightstand?
First, I love poetry so I'm reading Terrance Hayes' Lighthead. I think the poems that stand out are Golden Shovel and one called Hide. He's just a genius. I'm in awe of him. I've also got The Good Lord Bird by James McBride. He won the National Book Award for it. The premise is wonderful. There's a boy trying to escape (slavery), but he's mistaken as a girl. He has to play a charade, in order to get to where he is going. There are so many things going on while this is happening. The abolitionist John Brown is in this. It's a different slant of telling history.
Did he do a good job with John Brown?
So far, I'm only hearing about John Brown. I haven't seen him yet, but the way the author does it is something that I want to achieve when I write historical fiction. It feels like you are in the time — the way people talk about well-known people. They don't have the significance we attach to them, although they are aware of what their role is. It's kind of like the way my mother used to talk about celebrities. My mother talked about Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor like they were the girls down the street. That's what James does. He puts these people in our hands. We can picture them. We know people don't have reverence for them yet.
What authors would you recommend for your middle school readers? Who has strong characters?
Jacqueline Woodson, Sharon Flake and also Coe Booth. In Tyrell, she gets in the head of a young man who is pushed to his limits. She also has a book called Kendra, about a young girl trying to make sense of her life. There's also X by Ilyasah Shabazz, who is Malcom X's daughter, and Kekla Magoon. It's riveting.
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