The Coretta Scott King Book Awards are given every year to the best books by African-American authors and illustrators . Author Rita Williams-Garcia lives in New York City and is a three-time recipient of the Coretta Scott King Author Award. All of the books in her Gaither Sisters series have been honored with this award, including her most recent book, Gone Crazy in Alabama.
In Gone Crazy in Alabama, three sisters from New York City travel to the South to reconnect with older family members. TFK spoke with Williams-Garcia a few days after she won the award.
This is the third time you have won the Coretta Scott King Author Award. How did you feel when you won this year?
It feels amazing! I think the (American Library Association) committee really understood the history that is shared in all of the stories.
For those who haven’t yet read the book, what is Gone Crazy in Alabama about?
WILLIAMS-GARCIA: Gone Crazy in Alabama is set in the summer of 1969. It tells the story of three sisters who travel to the South to spend time with their elders. And they uncover family history and secrets.
TFK: Is this a book based on personal experiences?
It’s based on personal experiences only in the sense that I was around and keeping a diary back then to keep a sense of what the times were like. Really, all of this is fiction. But, I do recall having in my diary the landing of the Apollo 11 moon mission (in August, 1969). That was something that I had to put in because I remembered it so well. It was something very cool that brought not only families together, but also the world.
You wrote your first book, Blue Tights, in 1987. What has changed in your writing style since then?
So much has changed. First, my audience is different. I write now more for a younger set, kids ages 9 to 12. It was very important back then for me to get the voice and expressions exactly the way the characters would say it, and exactly the way the kids would say it. Now that seems like a very impractical thing to do. So now I try to give my characters a very practical and current kind of voice—but without dating it. That is one of the big things that has changed.
You are a New York Times best-selling author, and the winner of multiple ALA awards. Is there anything you haven’t yet accomplished in your career that you still aspire to?
Yes! I have always wanted to box in the ring. I train at Gleason’s Gym and I have a pretty powerful punch.
Are you working on another book right now? If so, is there anything you can tell readers about it?
I just submitted a book called Clayton Bird Goes Underground. It is a story about the blues and old school hip-hop. It is the story of a boy who’s a blues musician and plays with his grandfather’s band. When his grandfather dies unexpectedly, the boy goes on the lamb and adventure ensues. It is definitely a coming of age story and a grief story. It is probably going to be out in the spring of 2017.