Grace Nichols (1950-) Biography
Personal, Addresses, Career, Honors Awards, Writings, Adaptations, Sidelights
Born 1950, in Georgetown, Guyana; moved to England, 1977; companion of John Agard (a poet); Education: University of Guyana, diploma (communications).
Agent—Anthea MortonSaner, Curtis Brown, 162-68 Regent St., London W1R STB, England.
Poet, author of fiction, and editor. Teacher, 1969–70; Georgetown Chronicle, Georgetown, Guyana, reporter, 1972–73; Government Information Services, information assistant, 1973–76; freelance journalist, Guyana, until 1977.
Commonwealth Poetry Prize, 1983, for I Is a Long-Memoried Woman; Other Award, runner up, 1984, for Leslyn in London; British Arts Council grant, 1988; Guyana Poetry Prize, 1996, for Sunris; Cholmondeley Award, 2000.
Trust You, Wriggly! (stories), Hodder and Stoughton (London, England), 1980.
Baby Fish and Other Stories from Village to Rainforest, Islington Community Press (London, England), 1983.
Leslyn in London (stories), Hodder and Stoughton (London, England), 1984.
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The Discovery, Macmillan (London, England), 1986.
Come on into My Tropical Garden (poetry), illustrated by Caroline Binch, A. and C. Black (London, England), 1988, Lippincott (Philadelphia, PA), 1990.
(With John Agard) No Hickory, No Dickory, No Dock: A Collection of Caribbean Nursery Rhymes, Viking (London, England), 1990, published as No Hickory, No Dickory, No Dock: A Collection of Nursery Rhymes, illustrated by Cynthia Jabar, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 1995.
(Editor) Can I Buy a Slice of Sky?: Poems from Black, Asian, and American Indian Cultures, illustrated by Liz Thomas, Blackie (London, England), 1991.
(Editor with John Agard) A Caribbean Dozen: Poems from Caribbean Poets, illustrated by Cathie Felstead, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 1994.
Give Yourself a Hug (poems), illustrated by Kim Harley, A. and C. Black (London, England), 1994.
Asana and the Animals: A Book of Pet Poems, illustrated by Sarah Adams, Walker (London, England), 1997.
The Poet Cat, illustrated by Bee Willey, Bloomsbury (London, England), 2000.
(Editor with John Agard) Under the Moon and over the Sea: A Collection of Caribbean Poems, illustrated by Cathie Felstead, Walker (London, England), 2002, illustrated by Christopher Corr, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 2002.
(Editor with John Agard) From Mouth to Mouth: Oral Poems from Around the World, illustrated by Annabel Wright, Walker (London, England), 2004.
Paint Me a Poem: New Poems Inspired by Art in Tate, A. and C. Black (London, England), 2004.
Everybody's Got a Gift: New and Selected Poems, A. and C. Black (London, England), 2005.
I Is a Long-Memoried Woman (poetry), Karnac House (London, England), 1983.
The Fat Black Woman's Poems, Virago (London, England), 1984.
(Editor) Black Poetry, illustrated by Michael Lewis, Blackie (London, England), 1988, published as Poetry Jump-Up, Penguin (Harmondsworth, England), 1989.
Whole of a Morning Sky (novel), Virago (London, England), 1989.
Lazy Thoughts of a Lazy Woman, and Other Poems, Virago Press (London, England), 1989 Random House (New York, NY), 1990.
Sunris (poetry), Virago (London, England), 1996.
Work represented in anthologies, including A Dangerous Knowing: Four Black Women Poets, Sheba Feminist Publishers (London, England), 1984; Quartet of Poems, Addison Wesley, Longman (London, England), 1993; Penguin Modern Poets, Volume 8, Penguin (Harmondsworth, England), 1996; Three Contemporary Poets, Hodder and Stoughton (London, England), 1997; and We Couldn't Provide Fish Thumbs, Pan (London, England), 1997. Contributor to Contemporary Literature on Tape (audio recording), National Sound Archive Publications, 1987.
I Is a Long-Memoried Woman was adapted as a video by Women Make Movies, Leda Serene/Yod Video Productions, 1990.
Born and raised in Guyana, Grace Nichols left the Caribbean in 1977. Since becoming a resident of England, she has gained a reputation for creating children's poems and stories that draw upon her African heritage. In addition to her original verse, which is collected in volumes such as Asana and the Animals: A Book of Pet Poems and Everybody's Got a Gift: New and Selected Poems, Nichols has also worked with partner and fellow poet John Agard to edit several collections of Caribbean verse. In all of Nichols' work, migration, spirituality, myth, and the resourcefulness of women are reoccurring themes, and she has often been classified as a feminist writer. In her verse she interweaves elements of Guyanese history, myth, riddles, and language, combining Creole dialect and standard English. As Judith Nicholls of Books for Your Children observed, Nichols "has a wonderful gift for making words sing for younger children."
Nichols was born in Georgetown, Guyana in 1950, the fifth of seven children. She was raised in the village of Highdam and attended the school where her father worked as headmaster and her mother taught piano lessons. At age eight she moved with her family to Georgetown, and at age sixteen she left high school with the hope of becoming a teacher. Earning a degree in communications at the University of Guyana, Nichols worked as a journalist for the Georgetown Chronicle, then became a writer for Guyana's Government Information Services. She began writing poetry and short fiction while working as a journalist.
After beginning her relationship with Agard, she and her daughter Lesley accompanied him on his move to England; the couple would go on to have a daughter of their own, Kalera. Away from the Caribbean, Nichols began to write poetry more frequently. She read her poetry publicly, and also wrote Trust You, Wriggly!, the first of her children's books set in the Caribbean. The book features the adventures of a young Guyanese girl, Evangeline, who is nicknamed "Wriggly." Baby Fish and Other Stories from Village to Rainforest collects of five stories Nichols culled from Guyanese and Amerindian folklore; her nine-year-old daughter Lesley illustrated the book. Leslyn in London presents another young Guyanese protagonist, a girl coping with her move from her homeland to London. "This book is appropriate for all students to read to gain more understanding and sensitivity to foreign students in their classrooms," explained Beryl Berrian in the Dictionary of Literary Biography.
Come on into My Tropical Garden contains thirty poems replete with the imagery and sounds of the Caribbean; in this work, Nichols takes the point of view of a child to portray a typical South American childhood. Critics praised the book for being both specific and relevant to children from many backgrounds. Jill Bennett, writing in Books for Keeps, called Come on into My Tropical Garden a "superb collection" and concluded that the poet's "words … paint colours in the imagination." While Nichols presents some "universal experiences," as John Peters pointed out in School Library
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Journal, her "frequent use of rhythmic non-standard English establishes a lyrical sense of place" and makes the collection an "inviting mix of the exotic and the familiar."
Another collection of original verse, Give Yourself a Hug, "deserves a wave of applause in its own right!" according to School Librarian contributor Chris Routh. This collection features poems that, in Routh's words, "offer a variety of rhythm and rhyme" and are set in both England and the Caribbean. Critics have especially appreciated the poem in which a Caribbean grandmother comes to visit her family in England; she finds the place cold, but states that she is at home "wherever there's God's earth." Give Yourself a Hug, in the words of Books for Keeps reviewer Pam Harwood, is a "bright, zingy collection," and "a fabulously rich resource." Also echoing Nichol's childhood, Asana and the Animals contains seventeen poems about a girl and her favorite animals: everything from giraffes to spiders! Praising the "wonderfully physical" word choices and the opportunities for audience participation, Hazel Rochman praised Asana and the Animals as "a joyful book for sharing and reading aloud."
Nichols teamed up with John Agard to edit several collections, including No Hickory, No Dickory, No Dock: A Collection of Caribbean Nursery Rhymes and Under the Moon and over the Sea: A Collection of Caribbean Poems. No Hickory, No Dickory, No Dock presents thirty-nine poems that parody Mother Goose rhymes in a Caribbean setting, and although six are traditional Caribbean verses, the remainder were written by the couple. Rochman called the book "a lively collection that takes Mother Goose to the Caribbean in all her dancing energy and nonsense," and concluded that it will "appeal to those who've had enough of Little Miss Muffet." Praising Under the Sun and over the Sea as "a lively mix of rhythms, stories, and descriptions" that bring to life the Caribbean region, a Kirkus Reviews critic noted that the poems by James Berry, Lynn Joseph, and Valerie Bloom, and others are accompanied by art-work from five talented artists. In School Library Journal, Kathleen Whalin dubbed the book "an exuberant tribute to one of the world's enchanted places."
In addition to focusing on her native Caribbean, Nichols has also published collections of verse from other cultures. Can I Buy a Slice of Sky?: Poems from Black, Asian, and American Indian Cultures features a variety of languages and dialects and includes oral poetry, nursery rhymes, and even poems written by children. "The overall mood is one of celebration," observed Books for Keeps commentator George Hunt, calling this truly multicultural collection "an uncommonly varied anthology."
In her essay "The Battle with Language," collected in Caribbean Women Writers: Essays from the First International Conference, Nichols stated her philosophy of writing. "Writing is my way of participating in the world and in the struggle for keeping language and the human spirit alive," she explained, adding that, for her, writing also serves as "a way of sharing a vision that is hopefully life-giving."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Blain, Virginia, and others, The Feminist Companion to Literature in English: Women Writers from the Middle Ages to the Present, Yale University Press (New Haven, CT), 1990.
Caribbean Women Writers: Essays from the First International Conference, edited by Selwyn Cudjoe, Calaloux, 1990, pp. 283-289.
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 157: Twentieth-Century Caribbean and Black African Writers, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1995, pp. 235-240.
Mgcobo, Lauretta, editor, Let It Be Told: Black Women Writers in Britain, Virago (London, England), 1987, pp. 95-104.
Murray, David, editor, Literary Theory and Poetry: Extending the Canon, edited by David Murray, B.T. Batsford, 1989, pp. 108-126.
Welsh, Sarah Lawson, Grace Nichols, Northcote House (London, England), 2003.
Whisker, Gina, editor, Black Women's Writing, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1993, pp. 55-77.
Booklist, December 1, 1994, Julie Corsaro, review of A Caribbean Dozen, p. 665; May 1, 1995, Hazel Rochman, review of No Hickory, No Dickory, No Dock, p. 1576; June 1, 1997, Hazel Rochman, review of Asana and the Animals, p. 1711.
Books for Keeps, May, 1993, Jill Bennett, review of Come on into My Tropical Garden, p. 10; January 1994, George Hunt, review of Can I Buy a Slice of Sky?, p. 9; July, 1996, Pam Harwood, review of Give Yourself a Hug, p. 12.
Books for Your Children, summer, 1993, Judith Nicholls, review of Come on into My Tropical Garden, p. 21.
Choice, spring, 1991, p. 47.
Kirkus Reviews, December 15, 2002, review of Under the Moon and over the Sea, p. 1844.
Publishers Weekly, November 28, 1994, review of A Caribbean Dozen, p. 62; June 5, 1995, p. 64.
School Librarian, May, 1995, Chris Routh, review of Give Yourself a Hug, p. 75; August, 1997, review of Asana and the Animals, p. 132; winter, 2004, Griselda Greaves, review of From Mouth to Mouth, p. 210; spring, 2005, Vida Conway, review of Paint Me a Poem: New Poems Inspired by Paintings and Sculptures in Tate, p. 43.
School Library Journal, April, 1990, John Peters, review of Come on into My Tropical Garden, p. 136; December, 1994, Barbara Osborne Williams, review of A Caribbean Dozen, p. 94; August, 1995, Barbara Osborne Williams, review of No Hickory, No Dickory, No Dock, pp. 131-132; July, 1997, Barbara Chatton, review of Asana and the Animals, p. 86; February, 2003, Kathleen Whalin, review of Under the Moon and over the Sea, p. 126.
Third World Quarterly, April, 1988, pp. 995-998.
Wasafiri, spring, 1988, "Grace Nichols in Conversation with Maggie Butcher," pp. 17-19.
British Council Web site, http://www.contemporarywriters.com/ (September 17, 2005), "Grace Nichols."