Nikki Grimes: Biography, Poems & Books

Instructor: Natarielle Powell
She began writing at age six and was mentored by the great James Baldwin. ~'When I grow up, ~'I'll write books about children who look and feel like me.~' She kept her word and has written over 30 books. Read this lesson to find out how Nikki Grimes did it.

Early Life

In the year 1950, Harlem, New York, saw a great increase in gang violence, but in the midst of this chaos, a beautiful rose was blooming in Harlem. In the same year, Nikki Grimes was born.

As a child, she loved to read and write. It was clear that she had a talent for writing poetry at an early age, as Grimes began writing at the age of six. At 13, she read her poetry for an event at her local library.

Nikki Grimes

Family Troubles

When learning about different authors, you usually find a lot of information that other people have written about the author's family life. It is rare that you are able to find information from the actual author about how his or her life was growing up. Fortunately, Nikki Grimes has spoken very honestly about her family life.

Grimes said in an interview that her family had many troubles when she was growing up. Her parents separated several times, and she and her sister even spent some time in foster homes. The family came back together when Grimes was ten years old. During this time, they lived in Brooklyn, New York.

Empowered by an Educator

High school can be a very tough time for a young person. There's peer pressure, schoolwork, teachers, tests, and the list goes on. Adding death to the list makes the journey even tougher.

Nikki Grimes refers to her father as her 'best friend in the world,' and when she was in high school, her best friend died. This made the challenges of high school even more difficult. Thankfully, Nikki's English teacher encouraged and empowered her to regain her focus and excel.

During this time, Grimes had the great privilege of meeting well-known author James Baldwin. He encouraged her as well and became her mentor. She says that the most important things she learned from him were 'to honor my talent and write with honesty, integrity, and a sense of responsibility toward my audience.'

College Experiences

Nikki Grimes obtained her Bachelor of Arts degree from Rutgers University in 1974. She received a Ford Foundation grant and spent the year after graduation doing research in Tanzania. Through workshops at Columbia and Rutgers University, she met several authors, particularly Toni Cade Bambara and Nikki Giovanni, who inspired her just as her mentor, James Baldwin, did.


Nikki Grimes' poetry is heavily based on her life experiences. In many of her poems, she does not use the traditional method of cute lines that rhyme. Instead, Grimes tells a story that the reader can relate to.

After reading about a group of children who died in a tornado in Oklahoma, Grimes wrote this poem:

'I think of Oklahoma

and my heart cracks

like thunder,

my eyes fill

like rain clouds,

and I am lost in a flood

of tears.'

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