On Wednesday, June 21st, Richmond Young Writers got the opportunity to ask Newbery Honor Award winner Rita Williams-Garcia all about becoming an author. Lucky for you, we’ve snagged a recording of her interview. Girls of Summer is an annual event at Richmond Public Library celebrating books and strong girls. This is not your typical school summer reading list. Ms. Williams-Garcia was interviewed on stage. Here are some of our favorite responses:
Q: How do you come up with realistic characters and settings?
A: Oftentimes a setting might begin to dictate what a story is going to be. And then from there, I think, who will populate that setting? You know so in “One Crazy Summer,” I knew that it was going to start in Brookland but for the most part it would be in Oakland. So I had to think about what was going on Oakland, the whole movement and everything and what kinds of types of people would be there to represent those different parts of the movement. You had infiltrators, traitors like Crazy Calvin, you had teachers and facilitators like Sister Mencumbu and so forth and so on. But each main character has to have a soul. Something that makes them work from within. And it’s usually when I begin to figure out what that is, and how they speak, and why they speak the way they do, that I begin to get a sense of who they are and I can start to color them in. And then after a while I don’t have to work so hard; it’s kind of like listening to music. You can start to feel the refrain and how the rhythm flows. That’s the way it can be with each character because they have their own signature sound within the whole piece. So you start to get an ear for your character and a feel for them as well.
Q: What inspired you to write?
A: Well, yes I did have a very vivid kind of imagination and I could not stop myself from telling tall tales. But I loved reading and I read early. I taught myself to read when I was still kind of in diapers! And so I had this love of books. And the more that I read, the more that I knew: “I can do this myself!” So it was never a person who made me say “I want to be like that person or I want to write books like that person,” it was always that feeling. I think I grew up in a competitive family, so I always felt like, “I can write better than Hemingway!”
Q: When you started writing, what did I like about it:
A: I must be very honest with you: I liked the promise of getting paid one day. I went to the library and I checked out this book called the writer’s market – and then the writer’s handbook. And they said the publishers pay you like 7 cents or 10 cents a word and that is how I started to write 500 words every night. And I would count every word like a banker counting every dollar! So I was like, “I’m going to make so much money – I am going to be RICH” So while my brother and sister were teasing me and my mother was kind of going “okay girl keep writing…” I was going, “they don’t understand…I’m writing 500 words every night, I will be SO paid.” And then finally the money came. Rolling in. $150. This was back in 1972, do you know how many pairs of Converses you could buy? Do you know how many pizzas with a fruit punch drink that would be?
See the full Girls of Summer reading list here: https://girlsofsummerlist.com/about/2017-titles/