Multicultural Monday – Nikki Grimes’ Talk on Beyond Race: The Universality of Story

Since I’m blogging everyday for National Poetry Writing Month in April, I’m rebooting Multicultural Monday and Thankful Thursday.  Today is a follow up post to my first post about SCBWI Spring Spirit 2014.  I had a wonderful impromptu discussion with Nathalie Mvondo, Kim Zarins, and Amanda Concoran about how we can incorporate more diversity in children’s literature.  I love reconnecting with such kindred spirits.

Perhaps the session I was most looking forward to at SCBWI Spring Spirit was Nikki Grimes’ early morning talk on Beyond Race: The Universality of Story.  I know she had planned this talk way before the recent media coverage of the lack of diverse characters in children’s literature.  So I was interested in hearing what she had to say.  What she said was so beautifully grounded in poetry that it left me without words, only pure emotion.  She inspired me to dedicate an entire blog post to her session.  Pretty much everything Nikki said was a brilliant gem, better shared as quotes than summary, and here are some that stuck with me the most:

“Lyric, rap, call it what you will, poetry is as natural to most teens as breathing.  Celebrate it, incorporate it, use it as a jumping space to read and to write.”

“I move through the universe on a day that does not belong on your clock.”

“When an author dares to share a work of one race or culture with readers of another race or culture….what is learned is that even though we look different on the outside, we are pretty much the same on the inside.”

“To say or even think that books by or about African Americans should only be read by African Americans is equivalent to saying that Charlotte’s Web should only be read by whites, that The Diary of Anne Frank should only be written by Jews, that 1001 Arabian Nights should only be read by Arabs.”

Nikki explained that ALL kinds of kids connect to her stories, and she read excerpts of fan letters from kids who are white, Chinese, Vietnamese, Native American, and African American.  My favorite quote from one of her readers:  “Ms. Grimes, I learned that poems can have feelings in them.”

“The most common denominator is The Heart.  Our job as authors is to create stories with Heart.”

“The audience for our stories is only limited by those who are the gatekeepers.  Booksellers, librarians, teachers.  The stories we write are human stories intended for human audiences….We rely on the gatekeepers to take our books and share them with the young people that they serve.”

Nikki often gets correspondence from teachers and librarians who love her books but are concerned that their white students won’t connect with black protagonists.  Nikki’s advice is to let go of these concerns and share all books with all children, and “Let the stories speak for themselves.”

“Our worlds are not homogenous, so why should our books be?”

“There is nothing that is more powerful for a young reader than seeing him or herself within the pages of a book….We need these stories in every genre….”

“Who will write these stories, if not you?  When will they be written, if not now?”

If you ever have a chance to hear Nikki Grimes speak, GO FOR IT!  And write the stories only you can write!

Though we look different
on the outside, we all love
well-crafted stories.



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