By Steve Peterson
On May 31, 2014, Black Storytellers of San Diego and the Malcolm X Library hosted an afternoon of poetry with New York Times bestselling author and poet Nikki Grimes.
Nikki Grimes was born in Harlem in 1950. She began writing when she was six, and was a voracious reader throughout her childhood; she gave her first public poetry reading at a local library there when she was 13. Her family, which she says was “troubled before I was added to it,” split up many times as her parents repeatedly separated and reunited, and Grimes and her sister were sent to foster homes. When Grimes was 10, she rejoined her family in Brooklyn, but her years there were tough. In her neighborhood, gang fights were common, and she writes, “some days, I wondered if I would survive.” Although she has depicted many of these early experiences in her books for young adults, Grimes says, “So far, none of my characters have been through half of what I have.”
She has published more than 29 books and has twice received the Coretta Scott King Honor Book Award, as well as the Bank Street College Children’s Book of the Year Award, an ALA Notable Books citation, a Ms. Books for Free Children citation, a NCTE Notables award, and a Children’s Book citation from the Library of Congress. Among her titles are a Horn Book Fanfare book, a Notable Social Studies Trade Book, and a Bank Street College Book of the Year. Grimes’s works have been placed on numerous best books lists, including the New York Public Library’s 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing, Booklist’s Books for Youth Editors’ Choice, and American Bookseller’s Pick of the List.
“The written word has always held a special fascination for me. It seemed uncanny that words, spread across a page just so, had the power to transport me to another time or place… I spent many hours ensconced in the local library reading — no, devouring — book after book after book. Books were my soul’s delight. Even so, in one sense, the stories I read betrayed me. Too few featured African Americans. Fewer still spoke to, or acknowledged the existence of, the particular problems I faced as a black foster child from a dysfunctional and badly broken home. I couldn’t articulate it then, but I sensed a need for validation, which the books I read did not supply. “When I grow up,” I thought, “I’ll write books about children who look and feel like me.”
Many members of the community came out to see and listen to Ms. Grimes speak and speak she did, as you could hear a pin drop while all eyes and ears were focused on what Ms. Grimes had to say; her many authored books sat in the background. She says one of the best things you can do is tell your own story. As Ms. Grimes was finishing her last poem, Pamela Banks from Comfort Catering made a wonderful display of salads, fruit, and drinks for everyone who came.
For more information on upcoming events at the Malcolm X Library, call (619) 527-3405 or go to 5148 Market St. San Diego, CA 92114