One Last Word

writ­ten by Nik­ki Grimes
illus­trat­ed by a num­ber of very tal­ent­ed artists: Cozbi Cabr­era, R. Gre­go­ry Christie, Pat Cum­mings, Jan Spivey Gilchrist, Ebony Glenn, Nik­ki Grimes, E.B. Lewis, Frank Mor­ri­son, Christo­pher Myers, Bri­an Pinkney, Sean Qualls, James Ran­some, Java­ka Step­toe, Shadra Strick­land, and Eliz­a­beth Zunon
Blooms­bury, Jan­u­ary 2017

Buy the book

One Last Word

Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance

In this col­lec­tion of poet­ry, Nik­ki Grimes looks afresh at the poets of the Harlem Renais­sance — includ­ing voic­es like Langston Hugh­es, Geor­gia Dou­glas John­son, and many more writ­ers of impor­tance and res­o­nance from this era — by com­bin­ing their work with her own orig­i­nal poet­ry. Using “The Gold­en Shov­el” poet­ic method, Grimes has writ­ten a col­lec­tion of poet­ry that is as gor­geous as it is thought-provoking.

A fore­word, an intro­duc­tion to the his­to­ry of the Harlem Renais­sance, author’s note, poet biogra­phies, and index makes this not only a book to cher­ish, but a won­der­ful resource and ref­er­ence as well.

Awards and Recognition

  • Arnold Adoff Poet­ry Award for Mid­dle Read­ers, 2018
  • Boston Globe-Horn Book Hon­or Book, 2017
  • Chica­go Pub­lic Library’s Best Infor­ma­tion­al Books for Old­er Read­ers, 2017
  • Clau­dia Lewis Award, Bank Street Col­lege, 2018
  • Inter­na­tion­al Youth Library’s White Raven List fea­tured at the Bologna Chil­dren’s Book Fair 2019
  • Kirkus Reviews Best Mid­dle Grade Poet­ry, 2017
  • Lee Ben­nett Hop­kins Poet­ry Award, 2018
  • The Lion and the Uni­corn Award for Excel­lence in North Amer­i­can Poetry
  • Mass­a­chu­setts Chil­dren’s Book Award List 2018–2019
  • Myra Cohn Liv­ingston Award for Poet­ry from the Chil­dren’s Lit­er­a­ture Coun­cil of South­ern California
  • NCTE Notable Poet­ry List, 2018
  • Read­ing Beyond 2020, ALSC and The Chil­dren’s Book Council
  • School Library Jour­nal Best Books of 2017, non­fic­tion
  • YALSA Quick Picks for Reluc­tant Readers


Nik­ki  reads “Jabari Unmasked” from One Last Word, one of her favorite books. All the poems in One Last Word are Gold­en Shov­el poems. Sev­er­al of the lines are bor­rowed from “We Wear The Mask” by Paul Lau­rence Dun­bar, one of her favorite poets from the Harlem Renaissance.

Nik­ki reads poems “Truth,” “A Safe Place,” and “The Sculp­tor” from One Last Word, one of her favorite books. All the poems in One Last Word are Gold­en Shov­el poems where sev­er­al of the lines are bor­rowed from her favorite poets from the Harlem Renais­sance. Cov­er illus­tra­tion by Christo­pher Myers. Thank you Blooms­bury for allow­ing me to share this book!


  Time­ly and thought-pro­vok­ing, Grimes’ col­lec­tion trans­ports young read­ers through the endur­ing expres­sive­ness of the Harlem Renais­sance, jux­ta­pos­ing clas­sic poems of the era with her own orig­i­nal work and full-col­or art by con­tem­po­rary African-Amer­i­can illus­tra­tors. Grimes’ choice of form, the Gold­en Shov­el poem, does the mag­ic of weav­ing gen­er­a­tions of black ver­bal artistry into a use­ful, the­mat­ic, gold­en thread. A chal­lenge indeed, the struc­ture demands tak­ing either a short poem in its entire­ty or a line from that poem, known as a “strik­ing line,” in order to serve as the foun­da­tion for a new poem in which each line ends with one word from the orig­i­nal. With this, the clas­sic open­ing line of Jean Toomer’s “Storm End­ing” (“Thun­der blos­soms gor­geous­ly above our heads”) is rein­vig­o­rat­ed with­in new verse as Grimes reminds young read­ers that “The truth is, every day we rise is like thun­der— / a clap of sur­prise. Could be echoes of trou­ble, or blos­soms / of bless­ing.” Grimes joins the work of his­toric black word­smiths such as Geor­gia Dou­glas John­son, Coun­tee Cullen, Langston Hugh­es, plus the less-anthol­o­gized yet incred­i­bly insight­ful Gwen­dolyn Ben­nett and Clara Ann Thomp­son, with her con­tem­po­rary char­ac­ters and the­mat­ic entan­gle­ments to bring forth a Harlem Renais­sance that is as close to the present as the weight of injus­tice and unful­filled promise that they spoke through. This strik­ing, pas­sion­ate anthol­o­gy reminds young read­ers and adult fans of poet­ry alike that while black life remains “no crys­tal stair,” there remains rea­son to hope and a reserve of courage from which to draw. (Kirkus Reviews, starred review)

  Between the cov­ers of this com­pact vol­ume lies artis­tic, lit­er­ary, socio­cul­tur­al, and cur­ric­u­lar gold. Tak­ing her inspi­ra­tion from the poets of the Harlem Renais­sance and her poet­ic form from a method first devel­oped to hon­or Gwen­dolyn Brooks, Grimes offers an intro­duc­tion and a homage to these strong African-Amer­i­can voic­es. After pro­vid­ing brief author’s notes on the Harlem Renais­sance and its role in inspir­ing her own work, she describes and demon­strates the Gold­en Shov­el form, where­in a poet takes the words from a line or sev­er­al lines of an exist­ing poem, places them ver­ti­cal­ly against the right mar­gin, and crafts a new poem around them. Work­ing with pow­er­ful yet child-friend­ly poems by the lumi­nar­ies of the peri­od as well as less­er-known poets such as Gwen­dolyn Ben­nett and Clara Ann Thomp­son, Grimes then orga­nizes her new poems, along­side the orig­i­nals, into the­mat­ic strands that remain haunt­ing­ly rel­e­vant to con­tem­po­rary expe­ri­ence. Her riffs not only hon­or but also inter­pret the poems she has cho­sen, build­ing sto­ries and draw­ing the­mat­ic and inter­gen­er­a­tional con­nec­tions through the cre­ation of nar­ra­tive voic­es of dif­fer­ent ages. Moth­ers and elders exhort and reflect while young boys and girls plead and dream, reimag­in­ing the sor­rows and dreams of the leg­endary word­smiths into sce­nar­ios involv­ing super­heroes, bul­lies, peer pres­sure, pover­ty, and prom dates that young read­ers will relate to. This is sim­ply essen­tial for both per­son­al and class­room col­lec­tions. (Bul­letin for the Cen­ter of Chil­dren’s Books, starred review)

  In this inno­v­a­tive and pow­er­ful com­pendi­um, Grimes pairs orig­i­nal poems with clas­sics from the Harlem Renais­sance. In a brief his­tor­i­cal note on the peri­od, she acknowl­edges the sig­nif­i­cance of black artists giv­ing voice to the expe­ri­ences of black life and cites the con­tin­ued rel­e­vance of the lit­er­a­ture of the peri­od in a soci­ety that, decades lat­er, still strug­gles with racial iden­ti­ty and injus­tice. The author cred­its as inspi­ra­tion the mes­sages of hope, per­se­ver­ance, sur­vival, and pos­i­tiv­i­ty she finds in the work of poets like Coun­tee Cullen, Geor­gia Dou­glas John­son, and Langston Hugh­es, and she, too, explores these themes in her own poems. Fur­ther­more, Grimes bril­liant­ly uses the words of her lit­er­ary pre­de­ces­sors to struc­ture the book, employ­ing the gold­en shov­el, a form in which the words from select­ed lines or stan­zas are bor­rowed, only to become the last words of each line in a new poem. The result is not only a beau­ti­ful new homage to the Harlem Renais­sance but also a mov­ing reflec­tion on the African Amer­i­can expe­ri­ence and the resilience of the human spir­it: “The past is a ladder/that can help you/keep climb­ing.” In addi­tion, each pair of poems—each of Grimes’s works fol­lows the poem that inspired it—is accom­pa­nied by a full-col­or illus­tra­tion by a promi­nent African Amer­i­can illus­tra­tion. Fea­tured artists include Pat Cum­mings, E.B. Lewis, Christo­pher Myers, Bri­an Pinkney, and Java­ka Step­toe, among oth­ers, and the back mat­ter con­tains brief poet and illus­tra­tor biogra­phies. VERDICT This unique and extra­or­di­nary vol­ume is a first pur­chase for all mid­dle school poet­ry col­lec­tions. (School Library Jour­nal, starred review)

  “Can I real­ly find/fuel for the future/in the past?” asks Grimes (Words with Wings) in the open­ing poem of this slim, rich vol­ume. Her answer is a grace­ful and resound­ing yes. Using the Gold­en Shov­el poet­ic form, which bor­rows words from anoth­er poem and uses them at the end of each line in a new piece, Grimes both includes and responds to works from poets of the Harlem Renais­sance, includ­ing Gwen­dolyn Ben­nett, Coun­tee Cullen, and Langston Hugh­es. Thus, a line from Geor­gia Dou­glas Johnson’s “Call­ing Dreams” (“The right to make my dreams come true”) pro­vides “anchor words” (high­light­ed in bold) for Grimes’s “The Sculp­tor,” which empha­sizes seiz­ing what one desires (“Dreams do not come./They are carved, mus­cled into some­thing sol­id, some­thing true”). Through a cho­rus of con­tem­po­rary voices—including proud par­ents, striv­ing chil­dren, and weary but deter­mined elders—Grimes pow­er­ful­ly trans­pos­es the orig­i­nal poems’ themes of racial bias, hid­den inner selves, beau­ty, and pride into the here and now. Inter­spersed art­work from African-Amer­i­can artists, includ­ing R. Gre­go­ry Christie, Bri­an Pinkney, and Eliz­a­beth Zunon, and brief biogra­phies of each poet flesh out a remark­able dia­logue between past and present. (Pub­lish­ers Week­ly, starred review)

In this col­lec­tion, Grimes trans­forms poems from the Harlem Renais­sance into cre­ations of her own using the gold­en shov­el method. Each of Grimes’s poems is accom­pa­nied by the ref­er­ent poem and illus­tra­tions from one of sev­er­al acclaimed artists. In addi­tion to the inspi­ra­tion for the col­lec­tion and a def­i­n­i­tion of gold­en shov­el poet­ry, Grimes includes biogra­phies of the poets whose work she reflects. As a whole, the col­lec­tion acknowl­edges that while life for African Amer­i­cans is ‘no crys­tal stair,’ it is one yet full of hope.” (NCTE 2018 Notable Poet­ry committee)

Buy the book