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Bronx Masqueradeby Nikki Grimes
2003 Coretta Scott King Author Award Winner
Synopses & Reviews
When Wesley Boone writes a poem for his high school English class, some of his classmates clamor to read their poems aloud too. Soon they're having weekly poetry sessions and, one by one, the eighteen students are opening up and taking on the risky challenge of self-revelation. There's Lupe Alvarin, desperate to have a baby so she will feel loved. Raynard Patterson, hiding a secret behind his silence. Porscha Johnson, needing an outlet for her anger after her mother OD's. Through the poetry they share and narratives in which they reveal their most intimate thoughts about themselves and one another, their words and lives show what lies beneath the skin, behind the eyes, beyond the masquerade.
"A flowing, rhythmic portrait of the diversity and individuality of teen characters in a classroom....Competent and reluctant readers alike will recognize and empathize with these teens. As always, Grimes gives young people exactly what they're looking for — real characters who show them they are not alone." School Library Journal
"[A]lmost like a play for 18 voices....[The characters] are rich and complex teens, and their tentative reaching out to each other increases as through the poems they also find more of themselves." Kirkus Reviews
"Grimes's creative, contemporary premise will hook teens, and the poems may even inspire readers to try a few of their own....Ultimately, though, there may be too many characters for the audience to penetrate deeply....Any one of these students could likely dominate a novel of his or her own, they simply get too little time to hold the floor here." Publishers Weekly
"[B]eautifully crafted poems....Grimes addresses many of today's teen issues through the characters' unforgettable voices and poems. In the spirit of Gil Alicea's memoir The Air Down Here, this book will be an exciting addition to urban public and school libraries and will serve well in teen poetry classes, speaking to the poet in every teen who picks it up." VOYA
"With such short vignettes, the characters are never fully realized, and the message about poetry's ability to move beyond color and cultural boundaries is anything but subtle. Even so, readers will enjoy the lively, smart voices that talk bravely about real issues and secret fears. A fantastic choice for readers' theater." Gillian Engberg, Booklist
"Grimes is adept at introducing people through their essays and their poetry and connecting the next voice to what has come before....[U]ltimately what this book is about [is] developing students' pride in themselves and their potential, helping them to communicate among themselves and in the wider world of their families and community." KLIATT
Eighteen students in a high school English class open up and take the risky challenge of self-revelation in weekly poetry sessions. Through their poetry and narratives, they share their most intimate thoughts about themselves and one another, their lives, and what lies beneath the skin and beyond the masquerade. Winner of the Coretta Scott King Award for 2003.
About the Author
Nikki Grimes conveyed the fire-in-the-belly fervor of a Harlem girl who knows she was born to write in Jazmin's Notebook, a Coretta Scott King Honor Book. In My Man Blue, a Booklist Editor's Choice and Newsweek Children's Books of the Year selection, her artful words expressed a boy's journey from skepticism to trust. And now with Bronx Masquerade she presents a rich chorus of eighteen voices, singing openly about ideas, feelings, and questions — things that open minds, invite debate, provide release. An accomplished poet, novelist, journalist, and educator, Ms. Grimes was born and raised in New York City and now lives in the Los Angeles area.
What do you have to have by you to write?
A pad, pen, Post-its and a good book in case I get writer?s block and need a few pages of a good read to shake me out of it.
Where do you write?
All over the house. Have pen, will travel! I also take a pad with me on morning walks and jot down notes along the way. I?ve been known to compose whole poems that way.
What time of day do you get your best ideas?
Describe your writing uniform.
Active wear — whatever I threw on for my walk.
Whom do you share your writing with first?
My agent, my editor, or a friend. It depends on the particular project and how confident I feel about the work.
Do you read reviews of your own work?
Yes, though sometimes I wish I hadn?t! Few reviewers do poetry justice. For instance, while my work is generally complex, it is also accessible. However, instead of noting that, reviewers typically refer to my work as "simple." Grrrrr!
What are you reading right now?
Paula, by Isabel Allende.
What was your favorite book as a child?
I don?t remember a favorite book in my early years, but I do remember one of the books that made an impact on me when I was about twelve. It was Death Be Not Proud by John Gunther, and it stuck with me because the protagonist had great integrity. That?s something that I try to inject into my characters.
What was the first book you remember reading, or being read to you, as a child?
I don?t remember.
What were you doing when you found out that your first book was accepted for publication?
I don?t remember.
When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
When I first began writing, at age six.
What did you treat yourself to when you received your first advance check?
Dinner with a friend at a French restaurant. I ordered duck in orange sauce. Yum!
What's the best question a teen has ever asked you about your writing?
I don?t know that this was the best question, but it?s the best one I can remember.
How do you know when a book is finished?
When I?m making changes, rather than improvements.
Have any authors influenced you?
James Baldwin and Kahlil Gibran were early influences. Toni Morrison and Doris Lessing came later. Baldwin taught me the importance of integrity in your work and, along with others, demonstrated the power of mastering your tools, namely language. Each is a poet in his or her own way.
How did you decide to feature poetry so prominently in this book? What do you think it accomplishes that prose can't?
I wanted to explore the interior landscapes of a diverse group of characters, and I believed poetry to be the most effective way to get to the heart of those characters. In any case, poetry is the tool that works best for me.
It must be a challenge to write with so many "voices." What was the inspiration behind each character?
Some of the characters were inspired by high school poets I met on a visit to Centennial High School in California. Others were fictional whole-cloth.
Tyrone seems to emerge as the main character as the book progresses. Why do you keep returning to his point of view?
Tyrone acts as the Greek chorus in this piece. His voice helps to hold the work together. I chose him for this pivotal role because his story arc was the widest. He stood to gain the most from the poetry movement detailed in the book.
What do you like about writing for the Young Adult audience?
It?s a last chance to impact the next generation to be sent out into the world. It?s a challenge, a joy, and a great responsibility.
What do you hope young people take away from this book?
Several things. Be true to yourself; never judge a book by its cover; realize we are all complex individuals, more alike than we are different; and poetry is a powerful tool for self-expression, and self-exploration.
What is more challenging for you, poetry or prose? Why?
Prose, by far. I?m less sure of myself, unless writing nonfiction (essays, editorials, etc.). When I write poetry, I?m definitely operating within my comfort zone.
Why did you choose to set the book in the Bronx?
That?s where I went to high school, William Howard Taft to be precise.
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