Author Nikki Grimes Visits Westwood Students

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  • Author of ‘Bronx Masquerade,’ Nikki Grimes, talks about her memoir, ‘Ordinary Hazards.’

  • A student asks the author a question. Students were asking questions about ‘Bronx Masquerade,’ a book they had read in class.

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English I and Creative Writing students gathered in the Great Room on Friday, Oct. 26, to listen to author Nikki Grimes talk about her memoir Ordinary Hazards. She also answered questions about Bronx Masquerade, a book of hers the students had read in their classes. Grimes read excerpts from her memoir and talked about the process and difficulties of writing it.

Ordinary Hazards, Grimes’ most difficult book to write, is written in prose and poetry. She wanted to start writing her memoir 30 years ago, but could not commit to it because she did not have the time. When talking about the process of writing, some difficulties she faced were recalling memories, especially joyful and traumatic memories she had blocked out, and placing them in their respective time and place. When she went to a memoir workshop, she learnt that memories are not clear-cut. She went over the profoundness of traumatic and happy memories, and the effects they can have and triggers of memories. 

“Memories are triggered by all kinds of things. Food is one. Sense is another,” Grimes said. “Sometimes we hear a snatch of music and immediately go back to a particular moment in time.” 

Along with reading excerpts from her memoir, Grimes also shared personal stories. She read passages about her sister and talked about her life in the foster system, which included reading a poem she wrote called Tick Tock, written by a fictional character of hers named Genesis White. She also shared stories and passages about fond family memories, such as her father taking her to the National Memorial African Bookstore, which became a place she cherished. 

“I thought it was really interesting that she had a place that was specifically for her, and that was one of the things that made it so special,” Jinx Wiener ‘21 said. “It was really interesting because that just seems so cool and it really helped her foster her creative side.”

After talking about her memoir, Grimes answered questions students had about Bronx Masquerade. Various questions were asked about her love for poetry, where she got character ideas from, her favorite characters, and more. Students learned about Grimes’ writing past, what she likes to do, and more. Grimes has been writing since she was six years old. When she was younger, reading and writing were coping mechanisms for dealing with her struggles, but she began to consider it as a career option in late middle school or high school. 

“I actually started writing when I was going through a hard time,” Wiener said. “I related to it a lot, and I thought it was really interesting because I never heard anybody who had a similar experience. It was really inspiring because she actually made something out of her writing, and I definitely want to do something like that in the future.”

Grimes had the idea for Bronx Masquerade for a long time, but had to wait some time in order to successfully write it. Whenever she creates characters, they need to be authentic; if they do not fit the story, there is no point putting them in. Wanting to challenge herself, Grimes wants to attempt a graphic novel. Her fascination with language has always been with her, and she really likes poetry for its wordplay. She sees poetry as her first language. When writing stories, she wants the readers to relate to the characters. 

“It’s just the magic of thinking you are all alone in the world, and then reading and coming across a character that has had the exact same experience that you had and realizing ‘it’s not just me’,” Grimes said.