Nikki Grimes - Author
Nikki Grimes is an accomplished poet who has written many books for kids and young adults -- and won many awards for them. Her books include Bronx Masquerade, Talkin' About Bessie, Meet Danitra Brown, Danitra Brown Leaves Town, and Jazmin's Notebook. Her works have won the Coretta Scott King Author and honor book awards, ALA Notable Book, and NAACP Image Award finalist honors.
RIF: What do you love about poetry?
Nikki Grimes: I love language. Language is phenomenal. I have always been fascinated that one word can mean many different things. I love the challenge of painting a story in as few words as possible. I’m also a very direct person and poetry is a no-nonsense genre. If it’s done well, no words are wasted or minced. That really appeals to my personality. I love that poetry can make a beeline for the heart.
RIF: How were books a part of your childhood?
NG: Books were my survival tools. They were how I got by, and how I coped with things. Books carried me away. They helped me to dream of other places. They took me outside of the limits of my own environment. Reading was huge in my life.
I was bounced around a lot. I didn’t grow up in a home where I had my own books. My reading was dependent on the library. I read ravenously.
RIF: Your characters are so easy to relate to. How do you get in the mindset of a child or teenager?
NG: I climb into their skin the way an actor climbs into a role. Some of that comes from studying theatre. When I was growing up, I was interested in all things art. I did music and art and theater.
I asked my father once if it was okay that I was doing all these things, or if I should focus on one discipline. My father said to do everything you’re interested in doing. When you decide on one thing, you can use everything you’ve learned. He was absolutely right. It all comes together.
RIF: Do you see yourself in any of your characters?
NG: I relate to all my characters. They’re their own people. There’s a piece of me in every character. I have to connect with them in order to be able to give them life. But I can’t choose one over another.
RIF: Is it hard to write poetry when you're writing as a character?
NG: Writing in the voice of someone else is tricky. That’s a challenge, but I like a good challenge. That’s difficult to have each person sound different and sound like themselves. It’s about keying into to that particular character and their voice and style.
RIF: What's your favorite kind of poem to write?
NG: I like all poetry. I like to experiment with different forms. I don’t prefer one over another. For me, if it’s going to be called poetry, it needs to abide by the rules of poetry technique. It must have metaphor, imagery, and poetic language. My focus is that every poem must be able to stand on its own.
RIF: When you write a group of poems for a book, do you write them in order?
NG: Not necessarily. It’s something like a jigsaw puzzle. I’ll write individual pieces and figure out the order.
Reader Question: How do you get a book published? Sent in by Cassandra, age 9
NG: The first thing you want to do is learn how to write well. Writing is a muscle that has to be exercised. The true focus needs to be on developing your craft and honing it so you can be the very best writer possible. The only control you have is over the writing itself. For now, that really should be your focus.
Keep in mind that every good writer is a good reader. The quality of your writing will always reflect the quality of your reader.
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