Reading with... Nikki Grimes

photo: Aaron Lemen

Nikki Grimes was the recipient of the 2017 Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal, the 2016 Virginia Hamilton Literary Award and the 2006 NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children. Her works include Garvey's Choice; ALA Notable book What Is Goodbye?; Coretta Scott King Award winner Bronx Masquerade; and Coretta Scott King Author Honor books Jazmin's Notebook, Talkin' About Bessie, Dark SonsWords with Wings and The Road to Paris. Her newest book is Between the Lines (Nancy Paulsen Books). Grimes lives in Corona, Calif.

On your nightstand now:

I'm slowing making my way through Crossing Ebenezer Creek by Tonya Bolden. I'm intentionally taking my own sweet time to savor it, gradually, because I'm in no hurry for it to end! The writing is beautiful.

Favorite book when you were a child:

I read ravenously, but no particular book comes to mind. When I reached high school, though, I fell head over heels in love with two books: Another Country by James Baldwin and The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran. I carried those books around with me, everywhere. The first book for young readers I went crazy for was Child of the Morning by Pauline Gedge, the story of Hatshepsut, the only female pharaoh. I devoured it, and I've loved historical fiction ever since.

Your top five authors:

Five! That's too few! But here goes: Lucille Clifton, Mari Evans, Naomi Shihab Nye, James Baldwin and Chinua Achebe.

Book you've faked reading:

I never fake. I either read a book or I don't. However, I do remember it took five or six attempts to slog my way through A Tale of Two Cities. It seemed to take forever to get to the point in the book where the action actually began. The first 50 or so pages are all description, which made me crazy. I kept thinking, "And so? When does the story begin, already?" Once it did, the novel was totally worth the effort.

Book you're an evangelist for:

That's easy: Kindred by Octavia Butler. I'd collar strangers on the street and make them sit down and read it if I could. The book is absolutely genius. Whenever I develop a character, my aim is to slip into their skins, and look at the world through their eyes. Butler does this brilliantly, and allows readers to do it, as well.

Book you've bought for the cover:

Baba by Belle Yang. The cover is sumptuous. The riot of colors pulls you right in.

Book you hid from your parents:

None. I never read a book that required hiding.

Book that changed your life:

Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters. It opened my eyes to the possibilities of complex storytelling through poetry.

Favorite line from a book:

This is part of a line, but it more than suffices:

"She was so incredibly beautiful--she seemed to be wearing the sunlight, rearranged it around her from time to time, with a movement of one hand, with a movement of her head, and with her smile--" --from The Devil Finds Work by James Baldwin

I can never get enough of the poetry of his language.

Five books you'll never part with:

There you go asking the impossible, yet again! Still, I'll go with the Bible, A Dark and Splendid Mass by Mari Evans, Another Country by James Baldwin, The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison and William Shakespeare: The Complete Works.

Book you most want to read again for the first time:

Kindred. It was such a sublime experience, I would love to experience it anew.

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