Last night, I had the great fortune to meet Rita Williams-Garcia whose book One Crazy Summer has been named a Coretta Scott King Award Winner and a Newbery Honor Book. The book also won the Scott O’Dell Prize for Historical Fiction and it was a National Book Award Finalist...so many accolades that you can barely see the title of the book because these awards are plastered all over the cover.
I really enjoyed Ms. Williams-Garcia's talk. We all sat in Dylan's Candy bar, with it's cotton-candy drinks, it's red-and white striped chairs, easter-egg pastel tables that look like carousels, and even admist all of this color, she stood out like a bright star. She shared stories about her childhood, how, at just 12 years old, she sent out stories and received rejections that made her happy as a clam. Doesn't she know she's been rejected? her family would wonder, but all she could think was, Wow! Someone read my story and wrote me a letter! (Perhaps we can all take lessons from 12 year old Rita...)
She's been writing for 25 years without an agent, working with the very same editor she sold her first book to and, until just recently, worked a full-time job. She originally began writing for young people because in college she worked with the kinds of kids she called: women-girls. These young adults who had more adult experiences than she had.
She talked about pitching hard books like middle grade books that tackle subjects like genital mutilation and about making difficult choices that limit your market and your readership. In the end, she always has to ask herself, what is the big thing I want to get across? What can I sacrifice, if anything at all?
Her excitement was infectious, the rhythm of her speech frenetic and thoughtful at the same time. When I told her that she seemed so bright and full of energy, she just said, It took me 40 years to get here. I am happy.
She reminded me that there is joy in writing and in sharing your work with others. That we can push ourselves to take on hard topics and bring them to children who read these kind of books, breathe a sigh of relief, and say: I am not the only one.