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Mrs. Wexler, one of the adults in my life who was very special to me.
Thank God for Mrs. Wexler.

Mrs. Wexler was one of my high school English teachers as well as guidance counselor. A Holocaust survivor, Mrs. Wexler impressed upon me the importance of focusing on the future. "This, too, shall pass," she'd say of the chaos that was my life. And because of her own history, I believed her. She encouraged me to focus my energies on that which I could control—my studies, and my preparations for college and the life I wanted for myself.

Her advice rang true. Hadn't I always channeled my energies towards school? Somewhere along the way, I had begun to drift off course. Now, with her help, I got back on track. I never lost sight of it again.

The second most important person in my high school years was the author, James Baldwin (Another Country, If Beale Street Could Talk, The Devil Finds Work). I met him in my junior year and was blessed to have him as a mentor until his return to France a year-and-a-half later.

Baldwin was the single most important influence in my literary life. From him, I learned many things. To honor my talent, my gift. To write with honesty, integrity, and a sense of responsibility toward my audience. Most of all, he encouraged me to master the tools of my craft, to expand my knowledge of language, to enhance my fluency in my mother tongue. I loved his work. He may not have been a poet, but his language was among the richest I have ever read. It's no accident that he was one of the most honored authors of the last century. I will forever be in his debt.

All through school, I wrote poems and stories. And I read. Ravenously. Everything. Mysteries, myths and legends, biographies, science fiction, historical novels, short stories, and, of course, poetry. I dreamed of one day having my own books on the library shelf!

A Dime a Dozen

My mother was anything but supportive. Whenever I talked about wanting to be a writer when I grew up, she would say, "writers are a dime a dozen!" Hence, the title of my autobiographical collection of poems,

A Dime a Dozen. I was one of those people who pursued my art in spite of my mother, not because of her. Of course, times have changed. Today, she is very proud of what I do. Go figure!

My father, a violinist and composer, was just the opposite. He encouraged my artistic pursuits in every way. He gave me my cultural education, took me to my first ballet, my first art exhibit, introduced me to my first author, got me my first signed book, and so on. In fact, he was forever giving me books. During my teens, at gift-giving time, no matter what else he had for me, I could always look forward to a new book. There's no question but that my father helped to shape the artist that I am today. I even tried playing the violin for awhile, just like him!

People frequently ask when I began publishing my work. The answer? In high school. I published poems in the school literary journals, then in other literary journals and magazines.

I was sixteen in this photo. The girl on the left is my oldest friend, Debra, on whom Zuri Jackson was loosely based! The girl in the middle was our friend, Gail. Back then, we thought we might be models.

I finished high school in the Bronx, but my school career was spread out over four of the five boroughs of New York City, and four years upstate in Ossining. The inner city is, therefore, the backdrop against which I most often write. The city street is the territory I know best.

Copyright © 2003- Nikki Grimes. All rights reserved. Navigation bar photo by Aaron Lemen.
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