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‘Read toward your dreams’: Rita Williams-Garcia to speak at the 7th annual Girls of Summer event
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‘Read toward your dreams’: Rita Williams-Garcia to speak at the 7th annual Girls of Summer event

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Rita Williams-Garcia has an important message for young readers, and she’s coming to Richmond to share it.

Here’s a taste: “Read toward your dreams,” said Williams-Garcia, the best-selling author of “One Crazy Summer.” “They become closer, more real on the printed page and in your mind.”

Williams-Garcia, who lives in Jamaica, Queens, N.Y., will be the guest speaker at the Girls of Summer event where a summer reading list, 18 Books for Strong Girls, will be introduced Wednesday, June 21, at the Richmond Main Library. The event is free and open to the public.

This will be Williams-Garcia’s first visit to Richmond.

“One Crazy Summer,” the first installment in a three-book series, described the Gaither sisters’ encounters with political activism in the late 1960s. It won Newbery Honor and Coretta Scott King awards, as well as the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction.

“P.S., Be Eleven” and “Gone Crazy in Alabama,” the other books in the series, won Coretta Scott King awards.

QUESTION: Your new book, “Clayton Byrd Goes Underground,” was published last month. Could you tell us a little about it?

ANSWER: I’ve been writing about the Gaither sisters for a while. It was time to switch gears, so I wrote about Clayton Byrd, a boy who loses his best friend and fellow blues band member in Cool Papa Byrd, his grandfather. When he’s not given the space to properly grieve the sudden death of Cool Papa, Clayton goes on the lam in search of the Bluesmen, his grandfather’s band. While on the run in the New York City subway system, he finds adventure, trouble and his own blues story.

QUESTION: While attending Hofstra University, you took classes taught by Richard Price, author of the novel “Clockers” as well as a writer for the TV series “The Wire.” Why did you become a writer for young adults, rather than writing for an adult audience?

ANSWER: Through my college years, I had every intention to write for adults. I’ve read adult books since the seventh grade. But in my senior year, I did this character sketch for Price’s class about a girl with dance talent and low self-esteem. That story eventually became “Blue Tights,” a novel for young adult readers. I thought I could sell that novel quickly and move on to my adult work. Make that big splash. Once I heard from and met my teen readers, I knew I was where I belonged. Instead of making a splash, I was reaching out to an underserved audience. I’ve been writing for young people ever since.

QUESTION: Which writers inspired you as a young reader, and whom do you appreciate now that you’re a writer yourself?

ANSWER: As a girl, it was Louise Fitzhugh (“Harriet the Spy”), Scott O’Dell (“The Island of the Blue Dolphin”) and Reba Paeff Mirsky (“31 Brothers and Sisters”). As a young woman, I read Ntozake Shange, Toni Morrison, Alice Walker and Zora Neale Hurston. There are too many authors to name now! But I always read Jacqueline Woodson, Kate DiCamillo and Marilynne Robinson.

QUESTION: Who is your ideal reader?

ANSWER: My ideal reader is a reluctant reader. I know I’ve done something right when I hear from a reader who is just discovering a place for reading in their lives. That’s always a victory.

QUESTION: How does the printed book stack up against other media, when it comes to impacting young readers?

ANSWER: Books stack up pretty darn well! Ever see a kid in a bookstore? Or in a library or at the school book fair? The look of wonder is immeasurable. The printed word keeps pulling kids in!

Doug Childers is a Richmond writer and edits WAG, a literary website, at www.thewag.net.

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