HERstory-Poet Nikki Giovanni

By Meagan Bess

Renowned author and poet, Nikki Giovanni, born Yolande Cornelia Giovanni and named after her mother, hails from Knoxville, Tennessee. In Giovanni’s younger years, she attended Fisk University located in Nashville, Tennessee. While she was there, she studied History and later on graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in History with honors. To cope with the death of her grandmother after graduation, the poet devoted time to writing. The poems that she wrote would later be included in her anthology, “Black Feelings, Black Talk.”

In 1969, Giovanni took on the role of being a teacher at Livingston College of Rutgers University. The same year she became a mother, while in the same decade she was part of the Black Arts Movement. In 1970, the artist made regular appearances on a television program titled “Soul!” with guests like Muhammad Ali, Gladys Knight and Stevie Wonder.

From 1973 to 1987, Giovanni made her mark in the writing realm. She published multiple poetry anthologies, children’s books and spoken word albums. Since 1987, the writer has taught at Virginia Tech in the areas of writing and literature.

In regard to her work, she has received multiple awards including seven NAACP Images Awards, the Langston Hughes Award for Distinguished Contributions to Arts and Letters, honorary doctorates and various other awards.

After a battle with lung cancer in 1990, Giovanni’s book “Blues: For All the Changes: New Poems” was published in 1999 focusing on her cancer battle as well as nature.

The 2000’s have had a good turnout for her. In 2002, she spoke at NASA about the need for African American’s to pursue space travel. “Quilting the Black-Eyed Pea: Poems and Not Quite Poems” was published, which focused on similar themes. The History Makers have honored her life and career. She is the first person to have received the Rosa L. Parks Woman of Courage Award. In 2010, Dillard University awarded her the Presidential Medal of Honor. While in 2015, she was named one of Library of Virginia’s “Virginia Women of History for her contributions to poetry, education and society.

Giovanni’s dream was not to become a writer nor publish her work. Her dream was “to discover something else no one thought of.” The way poets and writers creatively put their work together comes from having a large sense of imagination. And that stylistic point of view allowed Giovanni to have a goal. She states on her website that she “wanted to be a writer who dreams or maybe a dreamer who writes.” For dreams to come true, action has to be taken. During that time, the poet did just that. She launched her second book, which gained a lot of attention and was featured at the New York City jazz club, Birdland.

Her early poetry included in “Black Feeling, Black Talk,” was inspired by the Civil Rights movement and Black Power movements, which sold over ten thousand copies in its first year. While “Black Judgement” sold six thousand copies in three months. Giovanni has been praised as one of the best African American poets. Her work has been described as “politically, spiritually and socially aware.”

Giovanni has been interviewed on numerous occasions on the topics of gender and race. Among other themes, Giovanni used the late 1960s and early 1970s to address black womanhood and manhood in her writings.

The writer has even traveled nationwide and spoken out on violence attributed to hate. It is clear that Giovanni gradually allowed herself to be in the places she felt called to, not just through her collections.

Among all of her works, the most recent is from 2017. Titled “A Good Cry: What We Learn From Tears and Laughter,” readers delve into a story that describes “the joy and peril of aging and recalling the violence that permeated her parents’ marriage and her early life.” It also focuses on her grandparents, poets who influenced her, students she has crossed paths with and a celebration of Maya Angelou.

Years from now, her relevance will still be present as her words still hold weight in this world. Moving into a new decade could never erase the art of writing, especially from someone as inspiring as Giovanni.

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