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Author Spotlight: The Whirlwind World of Nikki Grimes

Festival Staff / January 23, 2017

  • (Aaron Lemen)

Nikki Grimes has authored over forty books for young readers, including 2002 Coretta Scott King Award recipient Bronx Masquerade, and still she continues. In addition to novels and picture books, she is also a poet and journalist who regularly submits work to publications across the world. When she isn’t writing, she gives her time and her words to her readers, many of them school-aged. This is her first appearance at Tucson Festival of Books.

She was happy to answer a few questions to help her newest fans (as I’m sure many readers will be after this) get to know her a little better.

What has inspired you to write your books?

The source of inspiration for each book is different. Words With Wings, for example, was inspired by my childhood experience as a daydreamer mixed with my determination to underscore the value of daydreaming for students and teachers, alike. Garvey's Choice was a response to my desire to explore storytelling through tanka, along with an interest in exploring the struggles of a boy wrestling with body image issues. Finally, One Last Word was inspired by my fascination with the Golden Shovel poetry form, coupled with my love of Harlem Renaissance poetry and a quest to expose young readers to a few of the women poets of that period. No two books share exactly the same inspiration, but all of my work grows out of a commitment to plant seeds of hope, no matter the story or the genre.

You've got an exceptional body of work. What have you yet to write that is dying to come out?

The single most important story I have to tell is my own. It's not a story I can tell in a single book, but I'm itching to start work on the first of a series of memoirs.

Why is fiction important, especially for young readers?

Story matters to us all, young and old alike. We learn who we are from Story. We learn about those who live beyond our walls, and beyond our worlds, through Story. We develop empathy by immersing ourselves in the lives of those we meet between the pages of books. Story helps to connect us to one another. Story is important to us all.

What does the day-to-day business of being a writer actually look like for you?

No two days are alike. My writing life incorporates writing, revising, editing, corresponding with publishers, working on promotional material and marketing campaigns. I draft speeches and presentation material for school and library visits, as well as conference keynotes. There are booksignings, book festivals, travel, writing blogs, doing interviews. On any given day, I might be writing a book proposal, doing research for a new book, signing a book contract, double-checking a copy edit, maintaining my website, booking flights, or taking off for a writing retreat. One thing is certain: I am never, ever bored!

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

Read, read read, and write, write, write.

Read voracious and read a wide variety of genres because each, if written well, has something to teach you.

Write regularly, daily if possible. Writing is a muscle that must be exercised. If you want to become a strong writer, you'll need to practice in order to hone your craft.

Lastly, write first, and edit second. If you try to perfect your writing in the rough draft stage, you'll never reach the end of your story. Rough out the entire story, first, from beginning to end, while the idea is fresh in your mind. Then, and only then, go back one draft at a time and revise the work until it is as good as you can make it.

What are you working on right now?

A companion to Bronx Masquerade. In this novel, the student poets prepare for a poetry slam at the end of the year. It's Team Boyz vs. Team Girlz! I'm having fun with it.

Where can we buy your books?

The usual: Independent booksellers (like The Red Balloon, Powell's Bookstore, Elliott Bay Bookstore, and Poetry and Prose), Barnes and Noble, Amazon, etc. There are links to a couple of booksellers on my website.

To keep up with her whirlwind life, visit her website and join Nikki Grimes Fans on Facebook. You can also follow her on Twitter!

--Jessica Pryde

Find Nikki Grimes at the Tucson Festival of Books:One Last Word: Celebrating and Writing Poetry with Children,andRacial Injustice:The Courage to Acton Saturday, March 11; and Bullying: From Invisibility to Intimidation on Sunday, March 12.She will be available in the corresponding signing areas after each of these events, and books will be made available for purchase.

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