Nikki Grimes is the award-winning, New York Times bestselling author of dozens of children’s and young adult books as well as a poet and journalist.
Among the many accolades she has received are the Golden Dolphin Award (2005),the NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children (2006), the Coretta Scott King Award (2003) for Bronx Masquerade, and the Horace Mann Upstanders Award (2011) for Almost Zero: A Dyamonde Daniel Book. Additionally, her book Barack Obama: Son of Promise, Child of Hope (illustrated by Bryan Collier) was a New York Times bestseller, and she was acknowledged as an NAACP Image Award Finalist in 1993 for her book Malcolm X: a Force for Change. Her books Meet Danitra Brown (illustrated by Floyd Cooper), Jazmin’s Notebook, Talkin’ About Bessie (illustrated by E.B. Lewis), Dark Sons, The Road to Paris, and Words with Wings were each awarded Coretta Scott King Honors. Visit her online at www.nikkigrimes.com.
An Interview with Nikki Grimes on Bronx Masquerade Preview Magazine, Spring 2002
What do you have to have by you to write?
A pad, pen, Post-its and a good book in case I get writer’s block and need a few pages of a good read to shake me out of it.
Where do you write?
All over the house. Have pen, will travel! I also take a pad with me on morning walks and jot down notes along the way. I’ve been known to compose whole poems that way.
What time of day do you get your best ideas?
Describe your writing uniform.
Active wear—whatever I threw on for my walk.
Whom do you share your writing with first?
My agent, my editor, or a friend. It depends on the particular project and how confident I feel about the work.
Do you read reviews of your own work?
Yes, though sometimes I wish I hadn’t! Few reviewers do poetry justice. For instance, while my work is generally complex, it is also accessible. However, instead of noting that, reviewers typically refer to my work as “simple.” Grrrrr!
What are you reading right now?
Paula, by Isabel Allende.
What was your favorite book as a child?
I don’t remember a favorite book in my early years, but I do remember one of the books that made an impact on me when I was about twelve. It was Death Be Not Proud by John Gunther, and it stuck with me because the protagonist had great integrity. That’s something that I try to inject into my characters.
What was the first book you remember reading, or being read to you, as a child?
I don’t remember.
What were you doing when you found out that your first book was accepted for publication?
I don’t remember.
When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
When I first began writing, at age six.
What did you treat yourself to when you received your first advance check?
Dinner with a friend at a French restaurant. I ordered duck in orange sauce. Yum!
What’s the best question a teen has ever asked you about your writing?
I don’t know that this was the best question, but it’s the best one I can remember.
How do you know when a book is finished?
When I’m making changes, rather than improvements.
Have any authors influenced you?
James Baldwin and Kahlil Gibran were early influences. Toni Morrison and Doris Lessing came later. Baldwin taught me the importance of integrity in your work and, along with others, demonstrated the power of mastering your tools, namely language. Each is a poet in his or her own way.
How did you decide to feature poetry so prominently in this book? What do you think it accomplishes that prose can’t?
I wanted to explore the interior landscapes of a diverse group of characters, and I believed poetry to be the most effective way to get to the heart of those characters. In any case, poetry is the tool that works best for me.
It must be a challenge to write with so many “voices.” What was the inspiration behind each character?
Some of the characters were inspired by high school poets I met on a visit to Centennial High School in California. Others were fictional whole-cloth.
Tyrone seems to emerge as the main character as the book progresses. Why do you keep returning to his point of view?
Tyrone acts as the Greek chorus in this piece. His voice helps to hold the work together. I chose him for this pivotal role because his story arc was the widest. He stood to gain the most from the poetry movement detailed in the book.
What do you like about writing for the Young Adult audience?
It’s a last chance to impact the next generation to be sent out into the world. It’s a challenge, a joy, and a great responsibility.
What do you hope young people take away from this book?
Several things. Be true to yourself; never judge a book by its cover; realize we are all complex individuals, more alike than we are different; and poetry is a powerful tool for self-expression, and self-exploration.
What is more challenging for you, poetry or prose? Why?
Prose, by far. I’m less sure of myself, unless writing nonfiction (essays, editorials, etc.). When I write poetry, I’m definitely operating within my comfort zone.
Why did you choose to set the book in the Bronx?
That’s where I went to high school, William Howard Taft to be precise.