“My sister, brother and I grew up thinking our mother, ‘Miss Essie,’ discovered Pop Art. When she wasn’t cleaning, working or in school, Miss Essie painted every little thing that needed color. Now, Miss Essie didn’t paint the conventional floral or butterfly designs on ash trays. She mixed, dabbed, and splashed angry motifs and declared ‘I’m painting my mind,’ then laughed the laugh that made Phyllis Diller famous. One day after school we arrived at our house on Vallejo Street in Seaside, California and found our garage door set ablaze with psychedelic orange, red, hot pink and aqua birds or helicopters in some flight pattern. ‘Vandals!’ I cried, all the while knowing Miss Essie had been painting her mind.
“That wasn’t the start of my inventive mind, but it explains it. Thanks to my mother, nothing was ever as interesting as how you could imagine it. Even though we — straight-laced Negro children that we were — thought Miss Essie was crazy, my sister, brother and I were all infected by her need to make things.
“My mother discovered I could read when we went to the Red Cross for our shots. I knew all of the letters on the eye chart and could produce their sounds. When I figured out the sounds made words and the words made pictures, well! At two and a half, I was hooked. I began reading cereal boxes, billboards and moved on to books. By age twelve I was reading everything from Beverly Cleary to Eldridge Cleaver.
“Since kindergarten, I don’t think a day has passed that I haven’t written for my own pleasure. I made my first sale to Highlights Magazine at 14 and collected mounds of rejection letters before and after. In college, real life seemed to displace my need to ‘make’ stories, so I didn’t write fornearly three years. (Real life was running my dance company and being political). It wasn’t until my senior year when I took workshops with Richard Price and Sonia Pilcer that I began to write once more.
“I wrote the draft for Blue Tights in my senior year of college out of necessity. I was working with a remedial reading group that needed materials from their point of view. Such a book did not exist, so I wrote out little scenes, mostly taken from my reading groups’ lives, and we’d read them. I thought I’d rewrite this manuscript after graduation, sell it, make a zillion dollars and retreat to my island and write the serious tome. How totally naive! After Blue Tights was published nearly ten years later, I promised my editor that was my last young adult novel. Then I’d see something — a class valedictorian flipping burgers at a fast food joint, or a four-year-old girl feeding her six-month-old brother as expertly as any mother could, and I’d start making more stories.”
Rita Williams-Garcia lives with her husband, a Desert Storm veteran, and two daughters in Jamaica, New York. She works full-time for a marketing services company and attends theQueens College M.A. program part-time.
copyright ? 2000 by Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers. All rights reserved.