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Teaching Multicultural Literature: A Workshop for the Middle Grades

Engagement and Dialogue: Judith Ortiz Cofer and Nikki Grimes Authors and Literary Works

Judith Ortiz Cofer: Biography & Works


As a child, Judith Ortiz Cofer moved constantly between two worlds. Even before her birth in Hormigueros, Puerto Rico in 1952, her father had joined the U.S. Army, believing that America offered his family a better life. Later, when he switched branches and was assigned to the Brooklyn Navy Yard, the family lived together in nearby Paterson, New Jersey. But during his frequent deployments overseas, the family would move back to Puerto Rico to live in Ortiz Cofer’s grandmother’s house. Her mother worked hard to maintain their island heritage for her children, whereas her father believed that, for the children to get ahead educationally, they had to distance themselves from Puerto Rico. Ortiz Cofer says she grew up feeling that she was a “perpetual student,” always shifting between languages and cultures. “I lived with … conflictive expectations: the pressures from my father to become very well-versed in the English language and the Anglo customs, and from my mother not to forget from where we came.”

Though Ortiz Cofer did not begin to write seriously until graduate school, she always had a deep respect for the cuento — the story, a cornerstone of social life in Puerto Rico. “My mother’s favorite thing to do is to pull me down and say: ‘I have a cuento for you. You gotta hear this.’ And whatever she’s describing becomes embroidered with all kinds of details, and she loves to laugh. And one of the things that I try to infuse into my stories is the sense that, yes, there’s a lot of sadness and tragedy, but there’s also a lot to laugh about. And so I would say that my early education in storytelling came directly from my Puerto Rican relatives, particularly the women in the family.”

When she began writing, the author says, it “took a while for me to think of myself as someone who had a worthy story that a lot of people would want to read. But luckily, most artists are … driven and possessed by the need to tell stories. So even when my novel was rejected by every publisher in New York, I still felt like writing my stories and writing my poems. It was just a thing I needed to do in the same way my grandmother needed to tell her stories, in the same way my mother needs to tell her stories. We tell stories so that we know where we are in the world.”

Ortiz Cofer writes frequently about biculturalism, identity, and how intertwined identity is with one’s memories. “I write in English,” she says, “yet I write obsessively about my Puerto Rican experience… That is how my psyche works. I am a composite of two worlds.” Ortiz Cofer tries to fight stereotypes by offering a “more interesting set of realities.” When she published her first book, The Line of the Sun, she was conscious that others might think she was “trying to sell the story as sociology” — a look at “the poor Puerto Ricans.” Instead, “what I was saying was, ‘Look at these people. They may be poor, but they share your feelings. You want to know about your Puerto Rican neighbors? Well, they’re not just the people whose food smells funny to you. They have real lives.'”

Though she considers poetry her “first love,” Ortiz Cofer moves easily among genres. She has published poetry, essays, short stories, novels, and works of creative nonfiction. As a Latina writer, Ortiz Cofer is notable because she did not “come up” through the traditional channels for Puerto Rican writers and intellectuals in New York City. Instead, she published her work in small journals or with independent publishing houses.

She has been honored as a Scholar of the English-Speaking Union at Oxford University, a John Atherton Scholar in Poetry, a fellow of the Fine Arts Council of Florida, and a Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference scholar. She was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship in poetry, a Georgia Council for the Arts fellowship, and a grant from the Witter Bynner Foundation for Poetry.

Ortiz Cofer’s first novel, a coming-of-age story called The Line of the Sun, won several prizes, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, and was listed as one of the New York Public Library Outstanding Books of the Year. Silent Dancing: A Partial Remembrance of a Puerto Rican Childhood received a Pushcart Prize and a PEN Martha Albrand Special Citation for Non-Fiction.

Judith Ortiz Cofer is a graduate of Augusta College and holds an M.A. in English from Florida Atlantic University.


An Island Like You

In these twelve stories, Judith Ortiz Cofer depicts the lives of several Puerto Rican teenagers in a barrio in Paterson, New Jersey. Like Ortiz Cofer, they live between two cultures and must struggle to find their place in the world. For example, the opening story, “Bad Influence,” explores what happens when a girl named Rita is sent to stay with her grandparents in Puerto Rico, a place that at first feels “like I was in a Star Trek rerun where reality is being controlled by an alien and you don’t know why weird things are happening all around you until the end of the show.” In “Arturo’s Flight,” a teenage punk poet, ridiculed at his school for being different, learns something about being true to himself from an old man he meets in a church. In “An Hour with Abuelo,” this same teenager reluctantly visits his old abuelo, or grandfather, in a nursing home; by the end of his visit, the boy’s expectations have been turned upside down.

Ortiz Cofer says that she tried to give every teenager in the book “a moment of revelation” — a time where they “see the light.” In “Matoa’s Mirror,” a boy named Kenny goes to a party, and then, addled by drugs, experiences a violent situation. In a later story, another character reflects on how Kenny has changed: since that happened, “he’s been a different person and spends a lot of time in his house.” In “Catch the Moon,” Ortiz Cofer introduces Luis Cintron, who has lost his mother and has a shaky relationship with his father. Luis earns “a moment of grace” when he does something special for someone else.

Ortiz Cofer says that in her first novel, The Line of the Sun, she wrote about a building she calls the “vertical barrio,” where the first wave of Puerto Ricans came together in New Jersey. She decided that she would imagine the characters in An Island Like You “as the children and the nephews and nieces of my characters inThe Line of the Sun. I decided I would set it in essentially the same neighborhood except that the kids would be the principal characters, and everything would be viewed through their eyes.” Wanting her stories to be relevant to current teenagers, Ortiz Cofer consulted with her daughter and other young people “to make sure that I had the idiom right. But I also knew that lives are basically lived through the same emotional focus in every generation: every kid falls in love, every kid gets in trouble with parents, every kid rebels. I still knew what it was like to be fifteen and sixteen.”

The title for An Island Like You came from a poem the author wrote that gave her “the crucial image” for the book: that of herself as a child, alone but surrounded by other people. She realized that that is what adolescence is — “you’re separating yourself from others and realizing that you are indeed an island. And that doesn’t mean you’re isolated; it simply means that your choices … are yours.”

An Island Like You: Stories of the Barrio was the first recipient of the American Library Association (ALA) Pura Belpré Award, which is presented to a Latino/a writer “whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth.”

Talking with Judith Ortiz Cofer

Talking with Judith Ortiz Cofer

How is your personal and cultural perspective reflected in your writing?

I was born in Puerto Rico and came to the United States as a small child when my father was brought here with the U.S. Navy. For the first 15 years of my life, we moved back and forth from Paterson, New Jersey to the island, so I grew up truly bilingual and bicultural. My brother and I were always the new kids, having to adjust to a new language and a new environment. And while I was living it, I didn’t like it. But as a writer, I now know that it was my heritage; this is my material, this is what I can write about because I have intimate knowledge of it. So in a lot of my books, beginning with my early poetry and then on to my novels The Line of the Sun, Silent Dancing, The Latin Deli, my theme is: When you are always between cultures and between languages, how do you negotiate the world? And I think that is a very contemporary theme because America is constantly being populated and repopulated by new immigrants, and that is what makes this country unique.

How did An Island Like You come to be? Is it based on your own experiences growing up?

An Island Like You was a project that I began to think about when I was asked if I would write a book particularly for young adults. I knew that I wanted to write about the barrio in Paterson. As far as whether it is based on my experiences, the answer is yes and no. There are characters that are composites of people I knew in my childhood, but I wanted to make these stories contemporary for the young adults now.

All of my fiction is somehow based on my life because I always ask the question: If I were a boy … If I were fifteen … If I were living in the barrio … and if this were happening to me, what would I do? When I write, I try to put my consciousness and my unconscious into the persona of a new being, so they’re usually composites of me and many other things.

Who is your favorite character in the book?

Arturo became my favorite character because I felt that there was a lot of me in him: the kid who finds early on that books are extremely good friends and who thinks about situations and tends to be solitary, and also has a sense of humor. I put a lot of effort into making him the outsider who finds satisfaction in literature and discovers his own destiny by being a rebel, but a different kind of rebel than Kenny Matoa. I think that Kenny Matoa is a foil for Arturo: he is the person who takes every opportunity to humiliate others and who rejects things that are offered to him, like his mother’s love, poetry, and all these things. And he’s not evil, he’s just immature and hasn’t come into meaning in his life. And Arturo is someone who can actually look into a book and find the answers to life. And to have discovered that early changed my life. When I read books and suddenly saw the answers to some of the questions in my head that I didn’t dare ask adults, then I knew that I was always going to have a life among books. And so Arturo sort of became that person for me.

How did you come up with the characters?

It’s hard to trace the creative process to one particular starting point. The way I usually start planning a project is I have a stenographer’s notebook as well as index cards in my purse, and I let the ideas inhabit me. And I knew that I wanted to write about characters who were all facing a particular conflict. In “Beauty Lessons,” for example, I wanted to talk about body image. When I was growing up I was very, very skinny, and the kids would make fun of me. And so I had this idea that I would have a character who would go through this body image problem, but I would let her have her moment of redemption. And so some of my stories are to complete my story. This character is not me, but in my mind she looked like me when I was fourteen or fifteen.

Different stories came in different ways. The story for “White Balloons,” for example, was written after I knew about the deaths from AIDS of several people whom I loved or knew. I thought, “What if I try to humanize the face of this terrible disease and have somebody who cares about young people, but who has been rejected by the community because of this dreaded disease?” And so I made up the character of Rick Sanchez and allowed the kids to come up with a moral, ethical solution for bringing him back to the barrio, even though this time it was only in spirit. I want my readers to ask themselves, “Would I have been one of the ones who didn’t participate, or one of the ones who did?”

Is it important for young adults to see themselves and their cultures reflected in literature, as well as to use literature as a window onto others’ experiences?

When I was growing up, I didn’t have stories about Puerto Ricans. The only stories about Puerto Ricans were in Spanish, and they were usually about Puerto Ricans on the island. So I read the stories written by white Americans and black Americans and Europeans, and it never occurred to me to ask, Is Romeo and Juliet for me? It was for me! If I could read it and it made me feel something, it was for me. And I don’t write stories for any one particular group. I don’t write stories and say, “I think that Puerto Rican people will like this.” And I don’t write stories and say, “I think I’ll show my American readers what it’s like to be Puerto Rican.” I simply write the stories that I need to write and I hope that they become art. What I mean is that a story is mere entertainment or a lecture or a sermon unless it tries to reach beyond its cultural limits. And so what I hope, and humbly, for my work is that when Puerto Ricans read it, they say, “She’s got it right. This is what it’s like,” and maybe learn a little more about human nature. And that when other people read it, they forget that the characters are Puerto Rican. When I teach multicultural literature, I choose my texts for the same reason as when I teach British literature: because they’re the best.

Who are some of the authors you enjoy reading, and who have influenced you?

My reading has always been eclectic. I went to graduate school in the ’70s when there were very few women on the syllabuses. And in my book Silent Dancing, I say that although the only woman British writer who appeared on one of my syllabuses was Virginia Woolf, I managed to get a sense of empowerment from that. But I found that I didn’t need just women — I was looking for the wisdom in what I was reading. So from everybody — the Romantic poets, Keats and Wordsworth and Coleridge — and everything I read, I found that I was completely enthralled by the language. However, in more recent years, as I prepared myself to become a writer, the first people who made me feel that the stories I had to tell were worth telling were women. And the empowerment of the feminist movement brought forth voices like Toni Morrison and Alice Walker and many other female poets and writers. My influences keep changing because, I hope, I haven’t stopped growing. And every time I read something that excites me, it moves me to want to create something. And so I’m constantly reading and constantly reevaluating my work. Every book that I write, I try to make different from the last.

Nikki Grimes: Biography & Works


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.”

Bronx Masquerade

When Wesley “Bad Boy” Boone writes poetry instead of an assigned essay in response to a class study of the Harlem Renaissance, his teacher decides to host an “Open Mike Friday” and invite all of his students to read their work. Soon 18 teenagers — some enthusiastically, others reluctantly — are writing about what’s real to them behind the “masquerade” of their school personas. There is the teen mother, the girl abused by her boyfriend, the class jock, the overweight girl, the beauty queen, the white boy who “can’t rap,” and the artist who describes himself as “the next Diego Rivera.” In alternating voices they tell their stories and read their poems, as little by little the group begins to see past the stereotypes. With regular commentary by one student, Tyrone — a boy who is at first completely alienated by school — we see the group grow as writers and as a community. “I look around this class,” Tyrone writes halfway through the novel, “and nobody I see fits into the box I used to put them in.” By the end of the story, the class is performing their poems at an open mike assembly in front of the whole school. Invited to speak before the performance, Tyrone tells the audience about his class, “I feel like we connected. I feel like I know you now.”

Nikki Grimes began this book with the idea of exploring a classroom of high school students over the course of a year. “I wanted to look at the differences between the way they saw themselves and what they were willing to show of themselves to other people. I believe that we all have masks, and by the time we’re in our teens, those masks are firmly in place. So I wanted to take a look at those masks and look at the girls and boys behind the masks and who they really were and the issues with which they were wrestling. I also wanted to show the ways in which we really are more alike rather than different behind our masks, and explore some of the vulnerabilities that unite us.” But it wasn’t until Grimes was invited to speak at a high school where a teacher had his own open mike poetry day that she found what she calls the “framework” for her book in the idea of a series of classroom poetry readings.

KLIATT reviewer observes:

Grimes is a poet and an educator herself, crucial skills for creating this story. As each student reads a poem, others see that person in a new light and relationships evolve, self-confidence grows, people change. It’s the truth telling as much as the poetry itself that evokes these changes. Grimes is adept at introducing people through their essays and their poetry and connecting the next voice to what has come before … the voices tell of hardship mostly, of struggling to belong, to fit in, to be somebody. As other students hear of the struggle of a fellow student, the sense of belonging grows and the poetry moves them all.

Poetry, Grimes says, “makes a beeline for the heart” in a way prose cannot. She wanted to incorporate poetry into her portraits of these teenagers because “the thing that I am most concerned with is making the emotional connection with the reader. And I don’t know any genre that accomplishes that better than poetry.” Bronx Masquerade is a lyrical novel that will inspire young readers to write poetry of their own.

Bronx Masquerade won the Coretta Scott King Author Award and was also named to a number of notable book lists, including ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and Quick Picks for Young Adult Reluctant Readers, the Junior Library Guild’s Selections, the Texas Library Association’s Tayshas High School Reading List, and Notable Books for a Global Society.

Talking with Nikki Grimes

How might middle grade students become more interested in poetry today?

I think that more and more teachers are introducing poetry and exploring it and becoming a little less intimidated by the form. Some of that has to do with the focus of National Poetry Month and the added exposure that people are having to the genre.

As I travel around the country and talk to librarians and teachers and try to nudge them beyond their reticence to explore poetry with students, I discover that they have had some negative experiences in school where poetry was concerned. And so I emphasize the importance of presentation. If you present poetry as if it were castor oil, no one will be interested. Instead, teachers can approach it as something fun, and also explore poetry that connects to the students and their lives (as opposed to choosing poetry that they feel “should” be studied). It’s more important to go after the passion and to choose poetry to present that you are passionate about, that you love, that you get, and share that with your students, because your students are going to pick up on your passion. The fact of the matter is, kids are writing poetry — they’re just sticking it in their drawers somewhere. So let’s bring that interest into the classroom and play with it and explore it and give it room to grow and breathe.

How did you come to love writing poetry?

I was fascinated with the notion that one word could mean different things, and so I would explore that in ways that turned into poetry. I was also challenged by the idea of painting a picture or telling a story in as few words as possible. And I would challenge myself to do shorter and shorter poems, which is why I absolutely adore haiku. It is my love of language that has drawn me to study foreign languages and to expand my ability to think and to visualize, to see the world. So much of a culture is housed in its language, and the more languages I explore and study, the greater a resource I have to draw upon in terms of images and ideas.

How important is a personal response on the part of the reader?

When I create a work, I’m not looking for a singular response from the reader. As with any work of art, writing is layered and complex, and if the work is done well, every reader is going to walk away with something different. I’m always pleasantly surprised when people walk away with things that I hadn’t even imagined, or when I discover that the audience for the work is larger than I knew. For example, What Is Goodbye? is a collection of poems about grief that follows a brother and sister who have lost their older brother. It tells the story in their two voices. I wrote this for kids who are experiencing grief and needing some way to work through this experience. They may not have the luxury of a grief counselor, or parents who are really there for them. What happens very often with adults is a complete disconnect: they’re caught up in their own grief, and the basic rule of thumb is, if little Johnny isn’t acting out, then little Johnny’s fine. Well, little Johnny is dying inside, but nobody knows that. I wrote that book for Johnny. But I’m getting responses from adults who had losses in their own childhoods and they’re responding — the child in them is responding — to this work, and they’re finding healing in it.

Recently a friend shared that book with some students who had lost a friend and were struggling with it. There was one particular boy who not only contemplated suicide but also had already attempted it once and been interrupted. When this work was shared with him, he suddenly realized the kind of emotional damage his death would create for his brother and sister. He gave up thinking about suicide and he’s completely turned around. And who would have thought of that as a possibility?

Discuss the importance of using multicultural literature in school.

I come back to that often in talking to teachers and librarians because there is a pattern of marginalization in education: the works of African American authors are brought out in February for Black History Month, or the works of Asians are brought out in time for Chinese New Year, or the works of Latin Americans are slated for César Chávez Day. I want to move away from that. It’s more important, actually, if you don’t have students who are African American or Latino or Asian, that you bring those works into your classroom so that students can get a window into those cultures. That’s what literature is all about, and that’s what makes it so valuable. And there are so many wonderful works out in the marketplace now that there’s no reason not to use them. So if you’ve got a kid who’s into baseball, there are baseball poems. If you have a kid who’s into science fiction, or astronomy, there’s poetry a volume of poetry that’s right for him. Whatever the subject matter, whatever the culture, quality literature is being produced today that can help students make connections.

Who are your favorite authors?

It’s a very, very long list. But some of the earliest strong influences for me, the two that I absolutely could not live without in high school, were James Baldwin and Kahlil Gibran. I loved [Gibran’s] poetry and the fact that he wrote about spiritual things in such a clear and powerful way. I connected with that. With Baldwin, it was just his mastery of the language in all of his writing and that everything was so palpable in his work. And his characters — it was like meeting friends and family or meeting real people. You knew these people. You knew that he knew these people. So those were early influences.

As far as contemporary authors who mean a lot to me — as I said, the list is long. But among those who write for both young people and adults are Lucille Clifton (who I want to be when I grow up), Naomi Shihab Nye and Gary Soto. Those are among my clear, clear favorites. There’s Pat Mora, there’s Paul Fleischman, these are just really amazing people. Mari Evans. The literary marketplace is a veritable candy store!

Key References

Open Microphone/Poetry Slam
Both open microphone sessions and poetry slams are freewheeling poetry readings in which poets, amateur and professional, present their work dramatically to an audience. In an open microphone session, audience members are invited to come on stage and read their poetry aloud. There are usually no rules or restrictions on the style or content, and the poets are encouraged to express themselves through both their poetry and their voices. A poetry slam is similar, except that it is a contest in which people are judged on their performances of rehearsed pieces of original poetry. Poetry slams are more structured than open microphone sessions, although rules vary greatly. Both kinds of readings are venues for people to express themselves in a casual environment that is usually outside of academic institutions. The Nuyorican Poets Café in New York and Reciprocity and Sankofa Arts Kafé in Dallas are examples of well-known poetry slam venues.

Authors Resources

Judith Ortiz Cofer

Works by the Author
Listed below are selected works by the author.

Ortiz Cofer, Judith. An Island Like You: Stories of the Barrio. New York: Orchard, 1995.

—. Call Me María. New York: Scholastic, 2004.
When a teenage girl leaves her home in Puerto Rico to live in the barrio in New York, she is torn by her loyalty to both worlds.

—. The Latin Deli: Prose and Poetry. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1993.
This collection of autobiographical essays and poems describes Ortiz Cofer’s experience as a Puerto Rican immigrant.

—. The Line of the Sun. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1989.
Ortiz Cofer’s first novel describes the conflicts Puerto Rican immigrants face in the United States and shows the vibrancy of Puerto Rican culture.

—. The Meaning of Consuelo. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2003.
A Puerto Rican girl deals with loss and change as she becomes an adult.

—. Silent Dancing: A Partial Remembrance of a Puerto Rican Childhood. Houston: Arte Público Press, 1990.
In these essays and poems, Ortiz Cofer recalls the difficulties she faced as a child moving between her home in Puerto Rico and her home in New Jersey.

—. Terms of Survival. Houston: Arte Público Press, 1987.
This collection of poems describes Ortiz Cofer’s struggle with her culture and its customs.

—. Woman in Front of the Sun: On Becoming a Writer. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2000.
In this autobiographical essay, Ortiz Cofer tells how she became a writer and encourages those who wish to write but face obstacles.

Further Readings About the Author


Colley, Rae M. Carlton. “Review of the Career of Judith Ortiz Cofer.” In Contemporary Southern Writers, ed. Roger Matuz, 78-81. Detroit: St. James Press, 1999.
This is a review of Ortiz Cofer’s works in the context of Southern literary traditions.

Dick, Bruce Allen, ed. “Judith Ortiz Cofer.” In A Poet’s Truth: Conversations With Latino/Latina Poets, 106-22. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2003.
Ortiz Cofer discusses her work and her place in American literature.

Dolores Hernandez, Carmen. “Where Is Home? I Want to Go There.” In Puerto Rican Voices: Interviews With Writers, 95-105. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1997.
In this interview, Ortiz Cofer discusses her work, her life, and the literary tradition from which she comes.

Faymonville, Carmen. “Motherland Versus Daughterland in Judith Ortiz Cofer’s The Line of the Sun.” In The Immigrant Experience in North American Literature: Carving Out a Niche, ed. Katherine B. Payant and Toby Rose, 123-38. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1999.
Faymonville’s essay deals with conflict in immigrant life in the United States.

Magill, Frank, ed. “The Poetry of Judith Ortiz Cofer.” In Masterpieces of Latino Literature, 452-56. New York: HarperCollins, 1994.
This book contains summaries, critical analyses, and background information on some of Ortiz Cofer’s works.

Sanchez-Gonzalez, Lisa. “‘I Like to Be in America’: Three Women’s Texts.” In Boricua Literature, 134-60. New York: New York University Press, 2001.
Ortiz Cofer and other Puerto Rican writers are featured in this book.

Web Sites

Judith Ortiz Cofer’s Web site
This Web site lists Ortiz Cofer’s works and accomplishments.


Acosta-Belen, Edna. “A MELUS Interview: Judith Ortiz Cofer — Poetry and Poetics.” MELUS (Fall 1993):83-88.
Ortiz Cofer discusses her life as a bilingual immigrant and the social issues she explores in her works.

Davis, Rocio G. “Metanarrative in Ethnic Autobiography for Children: Laurence Yep’s The Lost Garden and Judith Ortiz Cofer’s Silent Dancing.” MELUS (Summer 2002):139-58.
Davis examines social difficulties through literature and compares the immigrant experiences of Judith Ortiz Cofer and Laurence Yep as revealed by their writings.

Faymonville, Carmen. “New Transnational Identities in Judith Ortiz Cofer’s Autobiographical Fiction.” MELUS (Summer 2001):129-57.
Faymonville explores how Ortiz Cofer’s characters try to find identities that are not restricted by the limiting notions of nationality.

Nikki Grimes

Works by the Author
Listed below are selected works by the author.

Grimes, Nikki. Bronx Masquerade. New York: Dial, 2001.

—. Danitra Brown Leaves Town. Illustrated by Floyd Cooper. New York: HarperCollins, 2002.
Through poems and letters, Danitra recounts her summer at her aunt’s house in the country and her best friend Zuri’s summer at home in town.

—. A Dime a Dozen. New York: Dial, 1998.
This collection of poems describes the experiences of an African American girl growing up in New York.

—. Jazmin’s Notebook. New York: Dial, 1998.
In this novel, Jazmin, an African American teenager, writes poetry and keeps a record of the events in her life in order to give herself strength.

—. Malcolm X: A Force for Change. New York: Fawcett, 1992.
Grimes gives an account of the drive and inspiration that enabled Malcolm X to be a civil rights leader.

—. Meet Danitra Brown. Illustrated by Floyd Cooper. New York: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard, 1994.
Poems describe the friendship between two girls, Danitra and Zuri.

—. Stepping Out With Grandma Mac. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000.
These poems present a child’s point of view about her relationship with her grandmother.

—. Talkin’ About Bessie: The Story of Aviator Elizabeth Coleman. New York: Orchard, 1998.
Grimes writes about Bessie Coleman, the first African American licensed pilot.

—. What Is Goodbye? Illustrated by Raul Colón. New York: Hyperion Books for Children, 2004.
Through poems, a brother and sister express their grief after losing their brother.

Further Readings About the Author


Pendergast, Sara, and Tom Pendergast, eds. St. James Guide to Children’s Writers. 5th ed. Detroit: St. James Press, 1999.
This book includes a biographical sketch of Grimes along with a bibliography and critical analysis.

Web Sites

Book Links: “Riding (and Writing) on a Dare”
Grimes explains where she finds the ideas for her work and describes her writing process.

Nikki Grimes Web site
Grimes created this personal site, which includes information about her life as an author, her works, and guides for educators who wish to teach her works.

Visiting Authors: Nikki Grimes
This site offers information about how Grimes perceives herself as a poet and a writer, as well as a complete listing of her works.

Authors on the Web: Author Roundtables
Poet Roundtable for Young Audiences, April 2003

Home – AOTW

The Poet Roundtable is a discussion among Grimes and other authors about their views on poetry.