A! Magazine for the Arts

Nikki Grimes talks about her poetry and written works following a lecture she gave at King College as part of the Buechner Institute program. (Earl Neikirk|Bristol Herald Courier)

Nikki Grimes talks about her poetry and written works following a lecture she gave at King College as part of the Buechner Institute program. (Earl Neikirk|Bristol Herald Courier)

Poet Addresses Youth Suicides, Bullying

November 2, 2010

*** Published Tuesday, Oct 19 in the Bristol Herald Courier. ***

BRISTOL, Tenn. – A noted children's poet said Monday (Oct. 18) that the rise in youth suicides from bullying is an issue that she and other child-oriented artists will start addressing more and more in their work.

Nikki Grimes, a national award-winning poet and author, said the recent rash of children and teens driven to suicide by bullying or ridicule from peers is "an issue that's becoming very heavily discussed in the children's-literary community," and authors now feel a growing responsibility to examine it.

"It's a problem that we're more than well aware of it, and it's something I'll be addressing more in my work, too," Grimes said in Monday interview after a speech at King College.

"Any type of bullying, in any form, is obviously very troubling and inexcusable," Grimes said. "But it's especially troubling when you see how it's now pushing so many young people to take their own lives."

Grimes, who won the 2006 National Council of Teachers of English Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children, is a graduate of Rutgers University. In September, the New Jersey college made international headlines after a Rutgers freshman committed suicide when his sexual encounter with another male was allegedly secretly taped by a roommate – and then broadcast over the Internet.

Grimes wouldn't comment on the specific case at her alma mater. But the author said she is alarmed, in general, at the growing number of public cases involving youths and suicides.

"And you know there are so many cases we don't know, and don't hear about," said Grimes, a Harlem, N.Y. native.

The author's comments on bullying were particularly timely because October has been declared "National Bullying Prevention" Month.

Grimes' often-witty speech at King College on Monday touched on the spirituality in many of her children's works, which include "From a Child's Heart," "Wild, Wild Hair," "Jazmin's Notebook," "A Pocketful of Poems," "The Road to Paris," and her 2010 book, "Almost Zero: A Dyamonde Daniel Book."

In 2008, Grimes also wrote a children's book on current President Barack Obama, titled "Barack Obama: Son of Promise, Child of Hope." But while Grimes' book on Obama made the New York Times' bestsellers list, it also drew harsh criticism from anti-Obama commentators and political pundits: One conservative website – Rightsoup.com – called the work part of an "ongoing brainwashing attempt by the cult of Obama" to politically influence young children.

During her post-speech interview, Grimes said she was disappointed that the Obama book "had become a political football" that led to her being targeted for such intense, personal criticism.

"I had reporters asking me if it was some political treatise for children," Grimes said with a laugh. "I'm like, "They can't even vote. Why would I write some political primer for kids? It's a children's book! That's all it is.' So that made me a little crazy."

When asked for her current view of Obama – or his performance as since taking office in 2008 – Grimes declined to comment.

"I try to stay away from that," Grimes said.

Then, with a laugh, she added, "I will say this much. I will never again write a book about a political figure. Glad I did it. Won't do it again."

Grimes appeared at King College as part of the campus' ongoing Buechner Institute lecture series.