Esteemed children’s author visits UConn
Published: Tuesday, October 22, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, October 22, 2013 21:10
Author Rita Williams-Garcia presented how she came to write her renowned novel, One Crazy Summer, at UConn on Oct. 22.
“They’re here!” A student called out at 3:52p.m. A sudden, almost tense silence immediately fell. “Or maybe not,” the same person said, seconds later, when the group seemed to pass right by the classroom.
Nervous laughter, but the same group opened the door after a moment’s hesitation. “I’m not Rita,” Pegi Deitz Shea, another children’s author in attendance, said, and the audience laughed again. She proceeded to tell them what they had already been told: that Williams-Garcia’s train was late for her 3:30 appearance, but that she would come very soon. Sure enough, the children’s author arrived minutes later, and her presentation, “The Road to One Crazy Summer,” began.
“From looking at me,” she started, “You can tell that I’ve been around for a while.” On her PowerPoint, a slide displayed Elvis Presley and Little Richard, segregated music icons of the 1950s and 1960s. Williams-Garcia spoke of her life as a child living in racially tumultuous times, using the “Little Rock Nine” as an example. “Emotion doesn’t lie,” she told the audience as she discussed how her memories and emotions as a child affected her writing career.
Williams-Garcia went on to talk about her early aspirations to be a writer, which seemed to stem from both her tendency to daydream in all occasions and a desire for more money. Her work as a young child, done either in journals or on her sister’s typewriter, were done in accordance with the Writer’s Handbook that she enthusiastically read. Despite a period of rejection slips, she achieved success first in a magazine with the story “Ben-ji Speaks.”
The author then movedon to the main focus of the presentation: her creative process in writing One Crazy Summer, her most famous novel. Williams-Garcia emphasized the importance of research, and described how her investigations of the Black Power movement as an adult confirmed what she remembered from her childhood. In the novel, she emphasized the involvement of children within the movement by depicting the “crazy summer” that three children spend with their mother, is a poet working with the movement. She also explained how the exploration of names within the story ties with similar African-American fascination with names during the 1960s. Williams-Garcia ended her presentation expressing her conflicted feelings on African-American culture today. “I am glad that some aspects of it can be shared to the world,” she said, “But at the same time, some parts of it has been appropriated into other areas when it really should be preserved, and I’m less comfortable with that.”
The audience, which was made up mostly of English majors and faculty working in the English department, seemed entertained and interested in Williams-Garcia’s presentation. Professor Katharine Capshaw Smith, who planned the event, seemed especially pleased. “We are tremendously fortunate to have a premier African American writer visit UConn. She is a witty, insightful, provocative writer and her work is the material we will still be studying fifty years from now.”