New York Times bestselling author Nikki Grimes is the recipient of the 2006 NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children. Her distinguished works include 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 SONS, THE ROAD TO PARIS, and WORDS WITH WINGS. Creator of the popular MEET DANITRA BROWN, Ms. Grimes lives in Corona, California.
For what age audience do you write?
I write books for all ages, from board books to adult historical fiction. My books run the genre gammit: poetry, prose, biography, historical fiction, novels and novels-in-verse.
Tell us about your latest book.
My latest book is POEMS IN THE ATTIC, a picture book story-in-verse about a little girl who discovers poems written by her mom when her mother was a girl. Mom grew up as a military brat, and her poems reflect special memories of the places in which her family was stationed. The book is written in paired poems, one set from the daughter’s point of view, the other set from the mother’s. The form of poetry switches back and forth between free verse and tanka.
Henry: Wikipedia helpfully offers: “Tanka is a genre of classical Japanese poetry and one of the major genres of Japanese literature. Tanka consist of five units (often treated as separate lines when romanized or translated) usually with the following pattern: 5-7-5-7-7.” An example by Ishikawa Takuboku:
On the white sand
Of the beach of a small island
In the Eastern Sea
I, my face streaked with tears,
Am playing with a crab
What do you hope readers will get from that book?
Growing up in a military family, with the frequent absence of one parent, plus the constant reassignment from one post to another, one city, or even one country to another, can be challenging for a child. There’s nothing a children can do to change that circumstance, of course, but they can control how they mark those times of transition, and those periods of parental absence. Capturing their thoughts, feelings and experiences in poetry can be a powerful, positive way to navigate the challenges. Writing is also a way to celebrate the unique and wonderful adventures of living in different places. In fact, poetry can be a powerful tool for any child facing his or her own challenges, whether they’re from a military family or not.
What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?
The first draft of a novel, because it can be excruciatingly difficult to power through the story, from beginning to end, without stopping, and I need to do that. Otherwise, I risk losing the thread of the story. The temptation is always to stop and make corrections, or edits along the way. If you do, you lose both the momentum, and the thread, which is always tenuous, in the beginning. Think spider’s web. So, my rule is to write first, edit second! Rewrites are for revisions, not first drafts!
Henry: Thank goodness I write picture books of 500 words or less.
Read the rest of this interview at Henry’s blog on KidLit, Fantasy & Science Fiction.