Poet mesmerizes crowd

Nikki Grimes visits downtown library

Nikki Grimes signs copies of her books following a discussion, where she generously answered questions from her audience. (Courtesy of Alachua County Library District)

Published: Thursday, February 27, 2014 at 2:29 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, February 27, 2014 at 2:29 p.m.

Poet and author Nikki Grimes made her first-ever appearance in Gainesville at An Evening with Nikki Grimes, and with wit and an easy manner, discussed her writing, read selections from her books, spoke about her life, answered questions and signed books.

Sponsored by the Friends of the Library, in conjunction with Black History Month, An Evening with Nikki Grimes drew a full house with a large contingent of University of Florida students and elementary students, as well as adults. The event was held last Wednesday at the Alachua County Library Headquarters.

Grimes' books are a mix of poetry and prose, primarily for children, teens and young adults.

Born and raised in New York City, Grimes, 63, lives in Corona, Calif.

A multiple award-winning author, Grimes began writing rhymes at the age of 6 and never stopped.

"I started writing at 6 and I knew I was a writer," Grimes said. "It took other people awhile (to see it) and by middle school, I was very serious about my writing. I knew what I wanted to do."

Grimes has written more than 45 books and has received many awards during a career that spans more than 35 years.

When asked to name her favorite book, Grimes said, "My books are like my children," she said. "If I chose one, the others would be jealous."

She read excerpts from several books, including "Halfway to Perfect," which tackles body image; "Words with Wings," about daydreaming as a coping mechanism; "Planet Middle School" about the challenges a young girl faces as she enters middle school; "When Gorilla Goes Walking," about a fierce cat, and other selections.

"Daydreamers are visionaries," Grimes said. "We all have it in us to be visionaries because we can all daydream."

Grimes said her books are about topics that interest her.

"Poetry is first and foremost," Grimes said. "I've always loved poetry. I'm fascinated with language and the power of words."

She said poetry should be enjoyed. She advised teachers in the audience to provide an opportunity for students to fall in love with poetry before asking them to analyze it. "Poetry is about enjoying it," Grimes said. "Don't present poetry as if it's castor oil. Let them fall in love with the genre; the diagramming can wait."

She spoke about being encouraged to write by her father, who signed her up for her first poetry reading, and by a 10th-grade teacher, who introduced her to great authors like the late James Baldwin, a world-renown African-American novelist, essayist, poet and social critic who wrote about being black in America.

Grimes also spoke about the demands of writing in today's market. She said publishers want their authors to have a presence online, have a website, participate in social media and post blogs, and she said, marketing, publicity and traveling are big parts of being a writer.

"The business of writing makes a lot of demands on my time," Grimes said. "The challenge is to block off time to write."

Grimes said books are important because they promote self-esteem and literature is magical because it allows a person to find his/her voice and connect with others. Growing up, Grimes said she hardly ever found African-American children in children's books.

"I wanted to give African-American children that experience," Grimes said.

She said writers get inspiration from the people around them.

"You write about everyone," Grimes said. "No one is safe, and we're taking notes. My whole family has ended up in one of my books."

After the discussion, Grimes received a standing ovation.

Vershauna Petty, a fifth-grader at Terwilliger Elementary School and an obvious fan, said her favorite Grimes' books are "When Gorilla Goes Walking" and the Danitra Brown poetry collection.

"I like her poems," Vershauna said. "It was great meeting the author and talking to the author."

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