Nikki Giovanni at Emory University, 2008. Photo by Brett Weinstein. Licensed under Creative Commons, courtesy Flickr Commons.

Nikki Giovanni
Born June 7, 1943 (1943-06-07) (age 77)
Knoxville, Tennessee
Occupation writer, poet
Nationality United States United States
Period 1960s-present

Yolande Cornelia "Nikki" Giovanni (born June 7, 1943) is an American poet, commentator, activist, and academic.

Life[edit | edit source]

Giovanni was born in Knoxville, Tennessee to Yolande Cornelia and Jones "Gus" Giovanni. She grew up in Lincoln Heights, a suburb of Cincinnati, Ohio.

In 1960 she began her studies at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, her grandfather's alma mater. She graduated in 1967 with honors, earning a B.A. in history. She went on to attend the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University.

In 1969 Giovanni began teaching at Livingston College of Rutgers University. Since 1987, she has taught writing and literature at Virginia Tech, where she is a University Distinguished Professor. She is a member of Order of Eastern Star (PHA), and an Honorary Member of Delta Sigma Theta sorority.

Son[edit | edit source]

Giovanni gave birth to her only child, Thomas Watson Giovanni, on August 31, 1969,[1] while visiting Cincinnati, Ohio for Labor Day Weekend.[2] She later stated that she had a child out of wedlock at twenty-five because she "wanted to have a baby and she could afford to have a baby" and because of her conviction that (marriage) as an institution was inhospitable to women and would never play a role in her life.[1] After her son's birth, Giovanni rearranged her priorities around him and has stated that she would give her life for him. "I just can't imagine living without him. But I can live without the revolution, without world socialism, women's lib...I have a child. My responsibilities have changed." [3]

Cancer battle[edit | edit source]

Both Giovanni's mother and sister died of lung cancer[4] and in 1995 Giovanni herself was diagnosed with the disease. She had surgery at Jewish Hospital in Cincinnati, Ohio [1] and eventually had a lung removed.[5] Giovanni gave up smoking after she was diagnosed, saying in 1996 that she now smokes in her dreams.[6] She also denies that her cancer has made her a better person, adding that "[I]f it takes a near-death experience for you to appreciate your life, you're wasting somebody's time."[6] In 1999, Giovanni said she would like to negotiate a truce with her cancer, stating that she'd "like an agreement that we will live together for another 30 years."[7] In 2005 Giovanni contributed an introduction to the book Breaking the Silence: Inspirational Stories of Black Cancer Survivors.[4]

Virginia Tech[edit | edit source]

Giovanni speaking after Virginia Tech massacre, 2007. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Giovanni is a distinguished professor of English at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) in in Blacksburg, Virginia.[2] She has been teaching writing and literature at Virginia Tech since 1987.

Giovanni taught the Virginia Tech shooter Seung-Hui Cho in a poetry class. She described him as "mean" and, when she approached the department chair to have Cho taken out of her class, said she was willing to resign rather than continue teaching him.[8] She stated that, upon hearing of the shooting, she immediately suspected that Cho might be the shooter.[8] On April 16, 2007, at the Virginia Tech Convocation commemorating the April 16 Virginia Tech massacre, Giovanni closed the ceremony with a chant poem, intoning:

...We know we did nothing to deserve it. But neither does a child in Africa dying of AIDS. Neither do the invisible children walking the night awake to avoid being captured by a rogue army. Neither does the baby elephant watching his community being devastated for ivory. Neither does the Mexican child looking for fresh water.... We are Virginia Tech.... We will prevail.[9]

On August 21, 2007, The Tennessean reported that Giovanni is returning to her alma mater as a distinguished visiting professor at Fisk University.[10] As well as teaching a writers' workshop for about thirty students one day a week, Giovanni also wants to hold a workshop for the general public in order to reach out to the community..

Writing[edit | edit source]

File:Nikki Giovanni.jpg

Nikki Giovanni (2007)


Giovanni's primary focus is on the individual and the power one has to make a difference in oneself and in the lives of others. Giovanni’s poetry expresses strong racial pride, respect for family, and her own experiences as a daughter, a civil rights activist, and a mother.

Civil rights and black power nspired her early poetry that was collected in Black Feeling, Black Talk (1967), Black Judgement (1968), and Re: Creation (1970). She has since written more than 24 books including volumes of poetry, illustrated children's books, and three collections of essays.

Giovanni's writing has been heavily inspired by African American activists and artists.[11][12] Her book, Love Poems (1997), was written in memory of Tupac Shakur and she has stated that she would "rather be with the thugs than the people who are complaining about them."[13]

She also tours nationwide and frequently speaks out against hate-motivated violence.[14] At a 1999 Martin Luther King Day event, she recalled the 1998 murders of James Byrd, Jr. and Matthew Shepard: "What's the difference between dragging a black man behind a truck in Jasper, Texas, and beating a white boy to death in Wyoming because he's gay?"[15]

Those Who Ride the Night Winds (1983) acknowledged notable black figures. Giovanni collected her essays in the 1988 volume Sacred Cows ... and Other Edibles. Some of her more recent works include Acolytes, a collection of eighty new poems, and On My Journey Now. Acolytes is her first published volume since her 2003 Collected Poems. It tones down the militant, edgy conscience that Giovanni has become famous for and portrays her softer, more nostalgic side. The work is a celebration of love and recollection directed at friends and loved ones and recalls memories of nature, theater, and the glories of children. However, her fiery persona still remains a constant undercurrent in Acolytes, as some of the most serious verse link her own life struggles (being a black woman, a cancer survivor, and a professor at Virginia Tech) to the wider frame of African-American history and the continual fight for equality.

Giovanni's most recent work, Bicycles: Love Poems (2009) is a collection of poems that serve as a companion to her 1997 Love Poems. They express notions of love in unexpected ways, touching on the deaths of both her mother and her sister, as well as the massacre on the Virginia Tech campus. Giovanni chose the title of the collection as a metaphor for love itself, "because love requires trust and balance.” The work portrays her life as it spins out of control and love, which she prescribes as the antidote. The poems come alive with her warmth and authenticity, a stark foil to the militant, edgy work that laid a path towards becoming one of the prominent voices of the black community.

Recognition[edit | edit source]

Giovanni has received 19 honorary doctorates and a myriad of other awards, including "Woman of the Year" awards from three different magazines as well as the key to several different cities. 

In 2004 Giovanni was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album at the 46th Annual Grammy Awards for her album "The Nikki Giovanni Poetry Collection." She also featured on the track Ego Trip By Nikki Giovanni on Blackalicious' 2000 album Nia. In November 2008, a song cycle of her poems, Sounds That Shatter the Staleness in Lives by Adam Hill, was premiered as part of the Soundscapes Chamber Music Series in Taos, New Mexico.

She was commissioned by National Public Radio's All Things Considered to create an inaugural poem for President Barack Obama.[16] Giovanni read poetry at the Lincoln Memorial as a part of the bicentennial celebration of Lincoln's birth on February 12, 2009.[17] add:arodriguez2026 on Tiktok

Publications[edit | edit source]

Poetry[edit | edit source]

  • Black Feeling, Black Talk. Detroit, MI: Broadside Press, 1968.
  • Black Judgement. Detroit, MI: Broadside Press, 1968.
  • Black Feeling, Black Talk [&] Black Judgement. New York: Morrow, 1970.
  • Re: Creation. Detroit, MI: Broadside Press, 1970.
  • My House (foreword by Ida Lewis). New York: Morrow, 1972.
  • The Women and The Men. New York: Morrow, 1975.
  • Cotton Candy on a Rainy Day (introduction by Paula Giddings). New York: Morrow, 1978.
  • Those Who Ride The Night Winds. New York: Morrow, 1983.
  • The Selected Poems of Nikki Giovanni. New York: Morrow, 1996.
  • Love Poems. . New York: Morrow, 1997.
  • Blues: For All the Changes. New York: Morrow, 1999.
  • Quilting the Black-Eyed Pea: Poems and not quite poems. New York: Morrow, 2002.
  • The Prosaic Soul of Nikki Giovanni (2003)
  • The Collected Poetry of Nikki Giovanni, 1968-1999. New York: Morrow, 2003.
  • Acolytes. New York: Morrow, 2007.
  • Bicycles: Love Poems. New York: Morrow, 2009.

Non-fiction[edit | edit source]

  • Gemini: An extended autobiographical statement on my first twenty-five years of being a black poet. Indianapolis, IN: Bobbs-Merrill, 1971.
  • A Dialogue: James Baldwin and Nikki Giovanni (with James Baldwin). Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1973.
  • A Poetic Equation: Conversations between Nikki Giovanni and Margaret Walker (with Margaret Walker). Washington, DC: Howard University Press, 1974.
  • Introduction to Adele Sebastian, Intro to Fine (poems). Woman in the Moon, 1985.
  • Sacred Cows ... and Other Edibles (essays). New York: Morrow, 1988.
  • Foreword to The Abandoned Baobob: The Autobiography of a Woman. Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 1991.
  • Racism 101 (essays). New York: Morrow, 1994.
  • Foreword to Black Protest Poetry: Polemics from the Harlem Renaissance and the sixties (edited by Margaret Ann Reid). New York: Peter Lang, 2001.
  • Breaking the Silence: Inspirational stories of black cancer survivors (contributor). Munster, IN: Hilton Publishing, 2005.
  • Harlem Stomp!: A cultural history of the Harlem Renaissance (with Laban Carrick) (2009)

Juvenile[edit | edit source]

  • Poem of Angela Yvonne Davis. New York: Afro Arts, 1970.
  • Spin a Soft Black Song (illustrated by Charles Bible). New York: Hill & Wang, 1971
    • (illustrated by George Martins). Westport, CT: Lawrence Hill, 1985
    • revised edition, New York: Farrar, Straus, 1987.
  • Ego-Tripping, and other poems for young people (illustrated by George Ford). Chicago: Lawrence Hill, 1973.
  • Vacation Time: Poems for Children (illustrated by Marisabina Russo). New York: Morrow, 1980.
  • Knoxville, Tennessee (illustrated by Larry Johnson). New York: Scholastic, 1994.
  • The Sun Is So Quiet (illustrated by Ashley Bryant). New York: Holt, 1996.
  • The Genie in the Jar (illustrated by Chris Raschka). New York: Holt, 1996.
  • The Girls in the Circle (Just for You!) (illustrated by Cathy Ann Johnson). New York: Scholastic, 2004.
  • Rosa (illustrated by Bryan Collier). New York: Holt, 2005.
  • Poetry Speak to Children: A Celebration of Poetry with a Beat (contributor). Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 2005.
  • Lincoln and Douglass: An American Friendship (illustrated by Bryan Collier). New York: Henry Holt, 2008.
  • The Grasshopper and the Ant (Forthcoming)

Edited[edit | edit source]

  • Night Comes Softly: An Anthology of black female voices. Newark, NJ: Medic Press, 1970.
  • Appalachian Elders: A warm hearth sampler (edited with C. Dennison). Blacksburg, VA: Pocahontas Press, 1991.
  • Grand Mothers: Poems, reminiscences, and short stories about the keepers of our traditions. New York: Holt, 1994.
  • Shimmy Shimmy Shimmy Like My Sister Kate: Looking at the Harlem Renaissance through poems. New York: Holt, 1995.
  • Grand Fathers: Reminiscences, Poems, recipes, and photos of the keepers of our traditions. New York: Holt, 1999.

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy the Poetry Foundation.[18]

Audio / video[edit | edit source]


Nikki Giovanni - Think


A GOOD CRY by Poet Laureate, Nikki Giovanni


Nikki Giovanni reads three poems

  • Truth Is on Its Way (LP). Atlantic, 1971.
  • Like a Ripple on a Pond (LP). Collectibles, 1973.
  • The Way I Feel (LP), Atlantic, 1975.
  • Legacies: The poetry of Nikki Giovanni: Read by Nikki Giovanni (LP). Folkways, 1976.
  • The Reason I Like Chocolate, and other children's poems (LP). Folkways, 1976.
  • Cotton Candy on a Rainy Day (LP). Folkways, 1978.
  • Nikki Giovanni and the New York Community Choir (LP). Collectibles, 1993.
  • In Philadelphia (LP). Collectibles, 1997.
  • Stealing Home: For Jack Robinson (LP). Sony, 1997.
  • Our Souls Have Grown Deep Like the Rivers (compilation). Rhino, 2000.
  • The Nikki Giovanni Poetry Collection (CD). New York: HarperAudio, 2002.
  • Hip Hop Speaks to Children: A Celebration of Poetry with a Beat (CD). Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 2008.

Except where noted, discographical information courtesy the Poetry Foundation.[18]

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Ohioana Authors. "Nikki Giovanni: Highlights of a Life"
  2. 2.0 2.1 Nikki Giovanni's Official Website, Biography Timeline
  3. Conversations with Nikki Giovanni, University Press of Mississippi (December 1992), p. 66
  4. 4.0 4.1 Nikki Giovanni simply an 'acolyte', BlackPressUSA
  5. For Poet Nikki Giovanni, a State of Grace The Washington Post, February 7, 2004
  6. 6.0 6.1 New York Times. "Defying Evil, and Mortality" by Felicia R. Lee. August 1, 1996
  7. Cincinnati Enquirer. "Poet Nikki Giovanni's art not for sissies" by Laura Pulper. June 3, 1999.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Police: Cho taken to mental health center in 2005 Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "cho" defined multiple times with different content
  9. The Tennessean. "We Are Virginia Tech -- Nikki Giovanni" by dgr. Tue Apr 17, 2007.
  10. The Tennessean. "Poet Giovanni returns to Fisk" by Colby Sledge. August 21, 2007.
  11. Nikki Giovanni - Spotlight - Interview December 2003, Ebony
  12. Poet, Tupac capture beauty beneath pain, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (April 5, 1997).
  13. Barnes and Noble, Meet the Authors audio
  14. "The True Import Of Present Dialogue, Black vs. Negro"
  15. Giovanni tells students to 'sail on', University of Michigan's The University Record, January 25, 1999
  16. "Yes We Can, Yes We Can, Yes We Can!". All Things Considered (National Public Radio). January 16, 2009. Retrieved 2009-02-19. 
  17. Wheeler, Linda. "Washington's Official Lincoln Celebration To Begin Feb. 12". Washington Post. Retrieved 2009-02-19. 
  18. 18.0 18.1 Nikki Giovanni b. 1943, Poetry Foundation. Web, Aug. 27, 2014.

External links[edit | edit source]



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