Sunday, November 19, 2006

Nikki Grimes receives NCTE Poetry Award

Greetings from Nashville, Tennessee, where I am attending the annual convention of the National Council of Teachers of English. I just realized I’ve been coming to this conference for 25 years! Geeze, that’s a long time! This is one of my favorite events, bringing together teachers, authors, publishers, and all kinds of lovers of books. I’ve been involved in this organization in many different capacities over the years, particularly within the Children’s Literature Assembly, a sub-group of NCTE—that’s an especially wonderful and dedicated group of people. At this year’s conference, I have the privilege of co-chairing the committee that bestows the Excellence in Poetry for Children award. We officially presented the award to Nikki Grimes, the fourteenth recipient of the honor, at the Books for Children luncheon yesterday. Nearly 500 people were in attendance, including two dozen OTHER authors and poets—quite an auspicious occasion. Nikki spoke briefly sharing her thoughts about poetry, what it is, what it does, and wove together readings of some of her poems from WHAT IS GOODBYE, WHEN DADDY PRAYS, and her newest book-length poem, WELCOME, PRECIOUS. It was a lovely, thoughtful speech that ended with her becoming quite emotional as she thanked everyone for the encouragement for “following my heart.” It was a very honest, moving moment.

In addition, there was also a conference session on Friday during which Nikki had the opportunity to speak at greater length. We kicked off the session by having members of the Poetry Award committee (Yours truly, Peggy Oxley, Dan Woolsey, Janet Wong, and Gail Wesson Spivey—Jan Kristo and Georgia Heard were not able to attend) read aloud some of their favorite Nikki Grimes poems, inviting the audience to join in on the oral reading in various ways. We shared “Snow” from A POCKET FULL OF POEMS, “Attendance by Tyrone Bittings” from BRONX MASQUERADE, “Coke-bottle Brown” from MEET DANITRA BROWN, the title poem from A DIME A DOZEN, and "Photograph ~ Poem for Two Voices” from WHAT IS GOODBYE? What fun! And what a lovely way to show the breadth and variety of Nikki’s work in both style and format. Then Nikki spoke for nearly an hour and kept the crowd in the palm of her hand the whole time. She wove together bits of autobiography, personal commentary, and life wisdom along with readings of poems from many, many of her works. It was a gem of a speech, beautifully prepared and delivered. Here is one of the nuggets that I particularly noted, “Poetry is portable… it can be carried in the hip pocket of the mind.”

If you haven’t checked out the poetry of Nikki Grimes, it’s time to do so. The poem below will help you get started; “At the Library” appears on the Poetry Award bookmark that was created for the occasion by NCTE. Enjoy!

At the Library
by Nikki Grimes

I flip the pages of a book and slip inside,
Where crystal seas await and pirates hide.
I find a paradise where birds can talk,
Where children fly and trees prefer to walk.
Sometimes I end up on a city street.
I recognize the brownskin girl I meet.
She's skinny, but she’s strong, and brave, and wise.
I smile because I see me in her eyes.

from IT'S RAINING LAUGHTER. New York: Dial, 1997.

Check out Nikki’s “meaty” web site for more about her and her work:

1 comment:

DH said...

Thanks for this post. I've been looking for this poem for weeks--I heard a snatch of it on the radio, plus the name "Nikki." I've spent two weeks immersed in Nikki Giovanni poetry (not a bad way to pass the time), thinking it was one of hers. A Google search turned up your page.

I am on the Evaluation and Selection Committee for our local school district--we are the first hurdle for books to be added to the secondary English curriculum. After two attempts I got "Bronx Masquerade" through, and will be thrilled to be able to teach it at the end of this year.