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RCS student Q&A with young adult author Nikki Grimes

January 26, 2018

By MADDI COONS
Blackman Middle School

In my hands is “Words with Wings” by Nikki Grimes.

Grimes has written many amazing books such as “Words with Wings” and “Bronx Masquerade” and many more.

After reading many of her books I’m looking forward to attending SEYA Book Festival for the third year in a row. I love meeting all kinds of great authors.

I love reading because I can compare characters to me. I also love reading because it creates an adventure you have never been on.

Reading has changed my life by showing me how other characters lived during their time period.

I loved that I was able to connect with Nikki Grimes because she is an amazing author, and it is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Not many kids my age can say they have interviewed a famous author before.

Maddi Coons: When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

Nikki Grimes: I started writing when I was six years old, and never thought about not writing. I did consider what I might do in addition to writing but never instead of writing.

What is your work schedule like when you are writing?

When I am off the road, I write six days a week, almost always in the early morning hours when my mind is clearest.  I reserve the afternoons for the business of writing — communicating with my editors or agent, shipping materials for future events, answering fan mail, autographing bookmarks, etc.

Where do you get your information or ideas for your books?

Some ideas are drawn from my own childhood, or the childhoods of people I know well. Other ideas come from things I observe, from history, from news articles, magazines, other books I've read — ideas come from all over the place. I'm simply awake to them.  I notice them when they come, and I am careful to write them down so that I don't forget.

What do you like to do when you aren't writing?

I like to draw, do watercolors, make cards or handmade books, or jewelry. And I'm a film buff, so I like to go to the movies. Since I love art, I also enjoy visiting art galleries and museums, whenever I can.

How many books have you written?  Which one is your favorite?

Between trade and mass market, I'm up to about 80 books by now.  My favorites are always my newest. My books are my children, of course, so I can't really choose a favorite!  That wouldn't be fair. Right now, my favorites are Garvey's Choice, One Last Word, and the forthcoming Between the Lines, my companion novel to Bronx Masquerade.

Do you like creating books for adults or for teens better?

I'm partial to young readers. I find them more honest, more demanding, and that makes them more challenging to write for. I like a good challenge.

As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?

Write books. Dance. Write books. Do theater. Write books. Make music. Write books — first, last, and always. I wanted to make a difference in the world, and I believed that writing was my strongest gift and my best chance of achieving that goal.

What is the first book that made you cry?

Wow. That's a great question, but I don't know. The novel Death Be Not Proud by John Gunther comes to mind. It left a powerful impression on me, I can tell you that, probably because I've had so much loss in my own life.

If you could tell your younger self something, what would it be?

Don't waste time using other people's success as a yardstick for yourself. Instead, just focus on being and doing your best. If you do that, you will always be successful.

What kind of research do you do, and how long do you usually spend researching before beginning a book?

That very much depends on the kind of book I'm working on. Most of my novels are based on contemporary life and only require research when a topic is unfamiliar, like juvenile diabetes which I researched for Halfway to Perfect, a Dyamonde Daniel chapter book. However, when the book is historically based, like Chasing Freedom, my book about Harriet Tubman and Susan B. Anthony, the research can take months, or even years.  For that book, I researched their lives, the Underground Railroad, the Civil War, and the Suffragette Movement, which served as the backdrop to their stories. I didn't begin writing this book until I had studied their individual biographies, read articles about them, and immersed myself in the history of that period. It's always difficult to stop researching and to begin writing, though. The research, itself, can be quite fascinating. I have to keep reminding myself: Oh! Yeah! I'm supposed to be writing a book!

What period of your life do you find you write about most often?

The middle school and early high school years, because they were marked by so much transition and emotional trauma. I exorcise a lot of things on paper.

If you didn't write, what would you do for work?

Something art related. I'd paint, or be some sort of designer.

Do you hide any secrets in our books that only a few people will find?

Occasionally, that's always fun.