Presenter of the National Book Awards

2008 National Book Award Finalist,
Young People's Literature

Photo © Lilli Bassett.
Tim Tharp
The Spectacular Now
Alfred A. Knopf

Interview conducted by Rita Williams-Garcia.


RWG: Which story decision are you most proud of?

TT: My best story ideas are not so much decisions as they are gifts. Or perhaps they are rewards for spending so much time mulling over the story. In any case, Sutter Keely's voice was certainly the most important ingredient in concocting The Spectacular Now. Several years ago, I wrote a short story that eventually became the scene in The Spectacular Now in which Sutter, while hiding in the closet with a lit joint, accidentally sets fire to his brother-in-law's thousand-dollar suit. However, in that version, the main character was very surly, alienated, and cynical. He wouldn't have been much fun to spend an entire novel with. Then one night the voice of Sutter came upon me all at once. In contrast to the earlier character, Sutter was unflaggingly upbeat, charming, and fun, despite his life coming unraveled around him. I couldn't wait to wait to get to his story, and that's how I felt the entire time I was writing the book. When it was finished, I couldn't write anything else for months. Sutter Keely was a hard, hard character to let go of. I hope readers feel the same way.

RWG: You pack a lot of wit in Sutter’s flasks. What is your favorite “Sutterism” and why?

TT: I enjoyed having Sutter Keely's voice in my head throughout writing the book, so it's hard to choose just one "Sutterism," but I certainly relate to his motto, "Embrace the weird." Embracing the weird means remaining curious, non-judgemental, and open to new experiences and people, despite their strangeness. It also means, accepting, even celebrating, the weirder sides of ourselves. Life would be very bland without the weird.

RWG: Uncommon heroism is a thread that runs through the novels of the 2008 finalists. Tell us about Sutter’s brand of heroism (without giving away the ending, of course!).

TT: If Sutter has any "uncommon heroism," it must be the same kind that the fife player for Custer's Seventh Cavalry had. Charging toward the Little Big Horn, he keeps playing the relentlessly jaunty and rousing melody of "Gary Owen" despite what terrible fate might lie ahead. If asked whether it would be best to retreat, Sutter would only wave one hand in the air and shout, "Full speed ahead and damn the potatoes!"


Rita Williams-Garcia is the author of six distinguished novels for young adults: Jumped, No Laughter Here, Every Time a Rainbow Dies, Fast Talk on a Slow Track, Blue Tights, and Like Sisters on the Homefront. She has also published a picture book and has contributed to numerous anthologies. Williams-Garcia's works have been recognized by the Coretta Scott King Award Committee, the PEN/Norma Klein Award, the American Library Association, and Parents' Choice, among others. She recently served on the National Book Award Committee for Young People's Literature and is on faculty at Vermont College for the MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults program. Rita Williams-Garcia lives in Jamaica, Queens, NY and is the mother of two daughters.

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