Question: What do eighteen high school students from different backgrounds have in common?
Answer: Way more than you probably think.
Don't believe us? No worries; we'll let Nikki Grimes convince you. Her 2002 book Bronx Masquerade prominently features not one, not two, but nineteen different narrators, all of whom are or will be enrolled in the same English class. They start out filled with judgments and ideas about each other, but when their teacher starts inviting them to share their poetry during weekly open mic sessions, they find that—whoa—they actually have a ton in common. As an added bonus for readers, not only do we get to hear each student's life story in prose form, we also get to read the poems they write.
If you're thinking a book that features so many voices and multiple writing styles sounds pretty darn impressive, you're not alone—it's won a whole lot of awards, including the 2003 Coretta Scott King Author Award, which is given out every year by the American Library Association and is one of the major literary awards honoring books that reflect the African-American experience in America. So yeah, Bronx Masquerade is kind of a big deal.
Bronx Masquerade—one part poetry, one part prose, all parts awesome.
We can think of nineteen good reasons you should read this book. Their names are Tyrone Bittings, Diondra Jordan, Devon Hope, Lupe Algarin, Janelle Battle, Amy Moscowitz, Judianne Alexander, Chankara Troupe, Raynard Patterson, Wesley Boone, Porscha Johnson, Sheila Gamberoni, Gloria Martinez, Sterling Hughes, Raul Ramirez, Steve Ericson, Tanisha Scott, Leslie Lucas, and Mai Tren.
Not following? There are the nineteen different narrators in Bronx Masquerade. Eighteen of them are in Mr. Ward's English class, and Mai Tren, who isn't in Mr. Ward's class (yet), takes the lead in the epilogue). And that, Shmoopers, is a highly unusual literary situation.
The end result is that we get glimpses into each student's life, developing an understanding of the main struggle they're up against and seeing how poetry—and Mr. Ward's class—inspires them to change. Considered all together, this paints a pretty complete portrait of the whole group, along with an in-depth exploration of the power of poetry. How many stories can claim that kind of range?
All Grimes, All the Time
Check out author Nikki Grimes's website. Featuring a bright purple background, this site is loaded with info and links.
Sadly, no one has made a movie featuring the kids from Mr. Ward's class, but this 2007 movie starring Hilary Swank features some of the same themes—inner-city kids write stories, bridge gaps, and learn stuff about themselves.
Books on Video
Sometimes fans get fanatical and make book trailers. Check out this one for Bronx Masquerade.
Want to know about Grimes's life and writing? This is the link for you, and Grimes dishes up the dirt herself.
RACE: Are We So Different?
The American Anthropological Association's video talks about the ways that thinking about race have changed over time and how racism continues to be an issue.
The author looking especially thoughtful… maybe she's getting ready to read her own piece for Open Mike Friday?
If We've Learned One Thing…
from this book, it's that you can't judge a book by its cover. That said, this one is pretty awesome.
Open Mic Fridays
Caught the poetry bug? Start your own open mic night with this printable sign-up sheet.