Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Nikki Grimes: Interview series with California poets for young people

I am honored to share today's interview with Nikki Grimes, one of my favorite authors. I am continuing my series interviewing California poets for young people--last week, I interviewed Jorge Argueta; in the works are interviews with Isabel Campoy and Lee Wardlaw. They each bring such wonderful gifts to our children.

Nikki Grimes has received many accolades for her writing, including the 2016 Virginia Hamilton Literary Award, the NAACP Image Award, the Coretta Scott King Award, and many more. I've seen time and again how she inspires my students, connecting with them on a very personal level. At Reading Rockets, this introduction shows how her personal experiences helped shape her connections to reading and writing:
Nikki Grimes was born in Harlem, but grew up in many different parts of New York. As a foster child from a broken home, she moved from place to place, always saying goodbye to new friends. Reading and writing became her survival tools. When she had no one else to talk to, Grimes wrote poems and stories about the things that were bothering her. As an avid reader, she checked out library books by day and read at night by flashlight.
1. How do you get into a place or mindset for writing your poetry? Do you have any habits you could share with young writers?
I pick up three or four books by favorite authors, written for the age group I'm writing that particular book for, and I'll lose myself in them for a day or so. This gets my pistons firing. I think something similar might work for any writer. After all, it's often the writing of authors that spur us to write ourselves.

2. I love sharing descriptive words with kids is there a word that's been on your mind lately that's particularly delicious?
No single word comes to mind, but a new phrase popped into my head recently, which I love and just used in a keynote speech I gave this week: the architecture of dreams! The phrase feels so good on my tongue.

3. What are three books of poetry you'd like to see in every child's home, for them to dip into whenever they want?
Three is an impossibly short list of books, but I'll give you three of my favorites:Water Music by Jane Yolen; Come With Me by Naomi Shihab Nye; and Neighborhood Odesby Gary Soto. But they also need to have books by Langston Hughes, Joyce Sidman, Janet Wong, Paul Janezcko, Jack Prelutsky, Lucille Clifton—like I said, impossible!

4. Is there a poem you have memorized that you can share a snippet with us? Maybe it's something you say to yourself when you need encouragement or just when you want to delight in the power of words.
Sorry. I don't memorize poems, not even my own.

Oh, I love that Nikki is giving us all permission NOT to memorize poems. I know that many people take great joy from reciting poetry, from having the words live permanently in their memory---but I have always struggled with this and felt very anxious about memorizing poems. How lovely to know that one of my favorite poets chooses to simply read and enjoy poetry without stressing about memorizing it.

I will hold the phrase architecture of dreams in my heart. I believe that the poetry, the books we share with our children help lay the foundations upon which they can build their own personal dreams. Nikki, I do hope you can share this speech (or a few parts of it) online.

If you want to read more interviews with Nikki Grimes, I highly recommend these:
Many thanks to Lee and Low Books for helping arrange this interview. And special thanks to Nikki for taking the time to answer these questions on a busy, celebratory weekend.

©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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