Vermont Press Releases

National Book Award shortlist includes VCFA alumna, former faculty member

News Release — Vermont College of Fine Arts
Oct. 11, 2017

Tim Simard
[email protected]

Montpelier, Vt.—Vermont College of Fine Arts (VCFA) alumna Ibi Zoboi (’14) and her former faculty member Rita Williams-Garcia have both made the five-member shortlist for the 2017 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. This is the first time a VCFA alumna and her former professor have been named finalists for the prestigious award in the same year.

Zoboi, an alumna of the MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults, made the shortlist with her book “American Street.” Rita Williams-Garcia, a former faculty advisor with the same program, was named for her book “Clayton Byrd Goes Underground.”

Zoboi and Williams-Garcia know each other well—Williams-Garcia served as Zoboi’s first-semester advisor at VCFA in 2012.

MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults Faculty Chair Alan Cumyn said VCFA’s extraordinarily successful program pairs emerging writers with established authors—four over the two years of the program—to help build the fundamentals for a long career.

“It’s not the particular piece you’re working on, it’s about the writer you will become. Rita helped shape a lot of fine writers over the many years she served on faculty, and Ibi has done a magnificent job of exploring a young Haitian-American’s immigrant experiences in this remarkable novel. We couldn’t be more proud of both of them,” Cumyn said.

In Williams-Garcia’s “Clayton Byrd Goes Underground” the title character follows in his grandfather’s footsteps as a bluesman through the streets of New York. Williams-Garcia, who taught in the MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults program for 11 years before retiring in 2016, remains a life-long friend of the College and has returned as a visiting writer. This is her third time being named as a National Book Award finalist.

“The longlist was so extraordinary that I didn’t count my book on my own shortlist. For me, it was a day of shock and incredulous joy. I’m such a believer in the arts, especially music in the classroom. If ‘Clayton Byrd’ can be a part of that movement, let it play its part,” said Williams-Garcia.

“American Street,” Zoboi’s debut novel, is a coming-of-age story that follows main character Fabiola Toussaint from her native Haiti to the United States, where she restarts her life in Detroit’s west side. Zoboi was born in Haiti, emigrating to the U.S. when she was four years old. She lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.

The winner of the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature will be announced in November.

The MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults program at VCFA, which is celebrating its twentieth anniversary in 2017, is the first low-residency master’s of fine arts program in the United States to focus exclusively on writing for young people. Learn more at


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