Inkpop Blog

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The Award Winner: Inside the Mind of Rita Williams-Garcia

Posted by cat eyes & skinny jeans on December 15, 2010

Author Rita Williams-Garcia didn’t set out to be an Award-Winning Author; she simply wrote what she knew and loved, and the rest fell nicely into place. Join us today – Wednesday, December 15th at 5 p.m. EST – on the inkpop forums to speak with National Book Award Finalist Rita Garcia-Williams about her experience as an award winning author and her new book Jumped.

Jumped tackles the theme of bullying in high school. Obviously this is a very timely topic. What experience inspired you to write story with such a theme? In your mind what are some of the detrimental ramifications that come from high school bullying?

Many years ago I was having a conversation with my daughter Stephanie when she was in the eighth or ninth grade and she was telling me about this fight. I asked her what it was about and she really couldn’t tell me. And I thought about this a lot. That we don’t think about the role that the bystander plays in fights or attacks. If you record it, post it, repeat the play-by-play of it, you’re contributing to this violence. Demonstrating your prowess as an aggressor might gratify the attacker immediately; but when everyone clears the way for them or respects them because of this prowess, then the fearful or admiring community becomes part of the problem. So, we have to stop giving attackers energy to feed on. The peaceful community has to come together to support a person of peace. No one wants to be a snitch, but no one wants to go to a funeral either. But it isn’t simply incumbent upon kids to act; parents and school administrators have to be more than involved. This problem isn’t an easy one. Often we’re talking about kids who have no or little parental support. If school officials or parents can’t communicate with parents of offending students, then the problems compound.

I’d like to see the peaceful outnumber the offenders. If the peaceful came together just to show their numbers, and their like-mindedness, then perhaps they can gain strength and support each other.

Unfortunately, for Trina, she has no community around her. Not one person to at least clue her in. In the end, her illusions are stripped away before her eyes. I am often asked, why did I allow this to happen? Couldn’t I have been more optimistic? Without giving away too much (okay, so maybe I already did), I had to turn everything back to Leticia. It’ll change when she changes.

Jumped was nominated for a National Book Award. Could you walk our members through the experience of such a nomination. When did you hear? What did it feel like? What were some of the other books nominated? Did you see an over arching theme in the books nominated for a National Book Award this year?

I didn’t believe it when I got the phone call. I absolutely didn’t believe it. I conducted interviews of the NBA Finalists in the past and couldn’t understand why the Foundation would be calling me before 9:00am. Getting the “finalist” call wasn’t even on my list of possibilities. It wasn’t. I couldn’t stop smiling. That day I was supposed to come down to Mary Immaculate Hospital to protest the closing of the only neighborhood hospital. A hospital I’d brought my daughters to for emergencies. When I got there I was one big smile. I had to turn around and go home. I wasn’t helping anyone. There I was, walking through the streets of Jamaica, Queens, frightening children with my demonic smile. I got all of these congratulatory posts on Facebook and since I was new to Facebook, I did what many a FB rookie would do: I responded to each one. Over 100 posts, over 100 responses.

The other books nominated were, A Leap of Faith by Debra Heligman, Claudette Colvin by Phillip Hoose, Stitches by David Small, and Lips Touch by Lainie Taylor. I have three sketches drawn by David Small hanging in my hallway. Two are of my daughters when they were 14 and 10. The other is a “lost and found” notice for his missing black jacket. I loved seeing that big shiny medal on my book jacket, but I think I really enjoyed all of the hooplah and sharing in it with the other finalists. Lainie’s hair coloring was this wicked pink and her editor Harold Levine dyed his beard in solidarity. I wonder if I could get Rosemary to wear her hair in twists at our next author and editor gig! We had a ball reading and signing at Books of Wonder on 18th Street, and reading to our public at the NYPL Teen Media Conference. We need to get rid of this stereotype that teens don’t read. Not only do they read, they know how to grill an author. Forget Oprah. These readers know how to ask a question!

Last year the panel selected mainly creative nonfiction, one fantasy title, and, well, me. The selections ranged from the very real to the very magical. This year, there was also great diversity. The dystopian steam punky Ship Breakers, the heart wrenching Mocking Bird, the timely and evocative Dark Water, the soul redemptive Lockdown from the master himself, Walter Dean Myers, and then there was, well, me. Once again, there was great diversity in the selections and some surprises! Did you know that Lockdown and One Crazy Summer have been spotted in The Gap’s Cool Hunting stores? Talk about the perks of being an NBA finalist in 2010!

If you had three words of advice for a first time Young Adult novelist what would it be?

There’s always more. More opportunities to nail it down better if you’re still writing, or if you‘ve just finished draft 1. More opportunities to write more stories. More readers to be won over. There’s always more.

Want to ask Rita a question yourself? Join us for our live chat with Rita Garcia-Williams today – Wednesday, December 15th, 2010 – at 5 p.m. EST on the inkpop forum events.

Erika (aka inkpoperika)

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