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Teaching Multicultural Literature : A Workshop for the Middle Grades
Workshop 1 Workshop 2 Workshop 3 Workshop 4 Workshop 5 Workshop 6 Workshop 7 Workshop 8
Workshop 2: Engagement and Dialogue - Judith Ortiz Cofer and Nikki Grimes
Overview
Authors and Literary Works
Judith Otriz Cofer
Biography
Work
Interview
Nikki Grimes
Biography
Work
Interview
Key References
Video Summary
Teaching Strategies
Commentary
Student Work
Resources
Interactive Workbook -- Explore two poems using strategies from these workshops. Go.
Channel-Talk -- Share your views on the discussion board. Go.


Authors and Literary Works
Biography

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."

Always a good student, Grimes began to falter when her beloved father -- someone she describes as her "best friend in all the world" -- died when she was in high school. It was through the help of an English teacher, a Holocaust survivor, that she found the strength to focus and concentrate on school. She also met the writer James Baldwin, and he acted as her mentor until she graduated from high school. From him, she writes, "I learned ... to honor my talent, my gift. To write with honesty, integrity, and a sense of responsibility toward my audience."

Nikki Grimes received her B.A. from Livingston College of Rutgers University in 1974. She spent the next year doing research in Tanzania on a Ford Foundation grant. She took a workshop at Columbia University and courses at Rutgers University, where she met and was influenced by writers such as Nikki Giovanni, Quincy Troupe, and Toni Cade Bambara. Soon she began writing books for children and young adults, as well as poetry for adults. 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.

Grimes says,

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. "


With books like Bronx Masquerade, Grimes hopes to encourage teenagers to write. "Reading and writing were my survival tools when I was growing up," she says in an interview. "Whatever was burning in me, I took it to the page and that was my salvation. And it's just a very powerful gift. Writing is something you can just do for yourself. And so I would like to encourage students of every age to recognize it as a useful tool in their own lives and to write, to journal, and to just explore."

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