Bronx Masquerade Summary

Nikki Grimes

Bronx Masquerade

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Bronx Masquerade Summary

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Bronx Masquerade (2003), a young adult novel by African-American author Nikki Grimes, focuses on the kids in an inner-city English class run by Mr. Ward. When a student Wesley Boone writes a poem to read aloud in class, some of his classmates follow suit, and the classroom becomes an exercise in self-revelation as the power of poetry allows these struggling teenagers to reveal their personal demons. “Open Mike Friday” becomes a tradition in the class that changes the students and their class forever. Exploring themes of coming of age, holding on to dreams in the face of adversity, the power of family to help or hurt, and the way literature and poetry serve as a window to the soul, Bronx Masquerade is one of Grimes’s most acclaimed works, earning her the Coretta Scott King Award for Authors in 2003. It is frequently used as assigned reading for high school classes, and was praised by critics for its frank look at the inner lives of a diverse group of students.

Set at a high school in the Bronx, Bronx Masquerade opens in Mr. Ward’s English class. Despite the school having a lot of funding problems, Mr. Ward works to motivate his students. He is currently attempting to engage them in a lesson on the Harlem Renaissance. He assigns them an essay to write, and while most of them follow the assignment, one student—Wesley Boone, a passionate, aspiring rapper and songwriter—takes a different tack. He writes a poem about the subject matter. Rather than criticize him for taking liberties, Mr. Ward asks Wesley to read his poem aloud to the class. The students respond, and it becomes a weekly tradition in the class—Open Mike Fridays. Every Friday, the eighteen students in Mr. Ward’s class write poems and perform them in front of the other students. A lot of the students are into this, but none more than Tyrone, who is thrilled to finally have an outlet for his passion for rapping and songwriting—after all, rapping is just poetry with a beat. This new tradition motivates Tyrone to apply himself in school, and no one performs more on Open Mike Fridays than he does.

Open Mike Friday allows Tyron’s fellow students to express themselves in front of the class as well, and one by one, the reader learns more about their inner lives. Raul has a passion for art but is not sure he has what it takes to be an artist. Lupe, who feels alone, desperately wants to have a baby as soon as possible because she hopes she will finally have someone who loves her. Janelle has been teased relentlessly about her weight and is finally able to put her yearning out there. Steve, who dreams of working on Broadway, is able to express his dream in a safe environment. Then there is Porscha, who lets out her white-hot anger at her mother’s recent death from an accidental drug overdose. Tyrone, who listens intently to every performance, realizes that he never know as much as he thought about the students who sit next to him every day in Mr. Ward’s class.

As every kid in the class reads a personal poem, they realize that they are all struggling with their own demons and trying to hold on to their dreams. Everyone struggles with insecurity, belonging, and worries about the future. The class feels closer than ever. Word starts getting out about Open Mike Fridays, and soon Mr. Ward’s class gets the attention of a local newspaper. After being written up in an article, the students are given the opportunity to read their poems at an assembly in front of the whole school. Mr. Ward, stunned by the success of his little experiment that was inspired by Tyrone, decides that next school year he is going to hold Open Mike Fridays in every one of his classes. He also starts a poetry slam competition for the whole school. The first student to sign up, of course, is Tyrone.

Nikki Grimes is a Harlem-born African-American author, poet, and journalist primarily known for her works for children and young adults. She has been a guest lecturer at international schools around the world including in Sweden, Tanzania, China, and Russia. In addition to the Coretta Scott King Award (for which she has been nominated four more times), she has also been honored with the 2017 Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal for her twenty-five year writing career, as well as the Horace Mann Upstanders Award and a nomination for the 1993 NAACP Image Award. She is the author of forty books, many focusing on African-American and Christian subjects, as well as biopics of famous African-American figures. She has written for magazines, including Todays Christian Woman and Essence, and is on the board of directors for the National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance.