2017 National Book Award Finalist, Young People's Literature

Rita Williams-Garcia

Clayton Byrd Goes Underground by Rita Williams-Garcia Rita Williams-Garcia
Clayton Byrd Goes Underground
(Amistad / HarperCollinsPublishers)
ISBN: 9780062215918

National Book Foundation: Where did the idea for this book come from?
Rita Williams-Garcia: What are two things I’d hate to see go away {literacy is a given):  genuine talk and music.  A few years ago I saw a video of rapper Doug E. Fresh beatboxing and playing the harmonica.  I loved the idea of putting the blues and old school hip-hop together in a story.  Imagine what we could discover when we put two seemingly disparate genres together.   Imagine the basic commonalities we could find among ourselves if we talked.  Genuinely talked.
Foundation: What’s your favorite bookstore or library?
Williams-Garcia: Queens Central Public Library is one of my favorite places, period!  It was a haven for me as a book hungry teen in the 70s.  Now that it’s been completely renovated, QCPL is my top spot to research, browse, and hunt for wonder.  I’m always on the hunt!

judges' citation

Clayton Byrd Goes Underground is the trembling wail of a harmonica, the deep beat of drums, the salty riff of strings—all the familiar notes combined in a fresh tune. When Cool Papa is gone, Clayton turns to the blues because he needs them more than ever. Rita Williams-Garcia’s lyrical writing captures the music that drives him in this timeless tale exploring the nuances of grief in an intergenerational family, with a blues soundtrack shimmering underneath.


Clayton feels most alive when he’s with his grandfather, Cool Papa Byrd, and the band of Bluesmen—he can’t wait to join them, just as soon as he has a blues song of his own. But then the unthinkable happens. Cool Papa Byrd dies, and Clayton’s mother forbids Clayton from playing the blues. And Clayton knows that’s no way to live.

Armed with his grandfather’s brown porkpie hat and his harmonica, he runs away from home in search of the Bluesmen, hoping he can join them on the road. But on the journey that takes him through the New York City subways and to Washington Square Park, Clayton learns some things that surprise him.

About the Author

Rita Williams-Garcia is the author of the Newbery Honor Book One Crazy Summer, which was a winner of the Coretta Scott King Award, a National Book Award finalist, the recipient of the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction, and a New York Times bestseller. The sequels, P.S. Be Eleven and Gone Crazy in Alabama, were both Coretta Scott King Award winners. She is also the author of six distinguished novels for young adults: Jumped, a National Book Award finalist, No Laughter Here, Every Time a Rainbow Dies (a Publishers Weekly Best Children’s Book), and Fast Talk on a Slow Track (all ALA Best Books for Young Adults); Blue Tights; and Like Sisters on the Homefront, a Coretta Scott King Honor Book. Rita Williams-Garcia lives in Jamaica, New York.


- WEBSITE: ritawg.com

- TWITTER: @OneCrazyRita

- FACEBOOK: facebook.com/RitaWilliamsGarciaBooks

(Photo credit: Ferdinand Leyro)


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