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Her articles and book reviews began appearing in periodicals such as Negro Digest and Black World, and the poetry she began to write formed her first volume, Black Feeling, Black Talk, which she published privately in In Giovanni founded NikTom, Ltd. In , she published what Anna T. Giovanni was to stay in Ohio until , when she accepted a permanent position as a professor of English at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, Virginia. Throughout her poetic career, Giovanni has also published poetry for children, including Spin a Soft Black Song, , Ego Tripping and Other Poems for Young Readers, , Vacation Time, ; volumes of prose essays, including Gemini, , Sacred Cows … and Other Edibles , , and Racism , ; and articles for numerous periodicals.

Among her many honorary degrees, in , she received an honorary doctorate of humanities from Fisk University. Sacred Cows …. Fowler, Virginia C.

Nikki Giovanni - Civil Rights Activist, Poet, Television Personality - Biography

Robinson, AnnaT. Black World, December , pp. Publishers Weekly, November 13,; May 23,; December 18,, p. Ethnicity: "Black. Joseph on the Ohio, Mount St. Smith Professor of Black Studies, —99, university distinguished professor, —; Texas Christian University, visiting professor in humanities, Founder of publishing firm, NikTom Ltd.

Has given numerous poetry readings and lectures worldwide and appeared on numerous television talk shows. Cotton Candy on a Rainy Day album , Folkways, Editor, with C. Contributor to numerous anthologies. Contributor of columns to newspapers. Her unique and insightful verses testify to her own evolving awareness and experiences as a woman of color: from child to young woman, from naive college freshman to seasoned civil rights activist, and from daughter to mother. Frequently anthologized, Giovanni's poetry expresses strong racial pride and respect for family.

The Collected Poetry, 1968-1998

Her informal style makes her work accessible to both adults and children. Giovanni was born in Knoxville, Tennessee, in , the younger of two daughters in a close-knit family, and had a reputation for being strong-willed even as a child. She gained an intense appreciation for her African-American heritage from her outspoken grandmother, Louvenia Terrell Watson, Giovanni. I use a very natural rhythm; I want my writing to sound like I talk. When Giovanni was a young child, she moved with her parents from Knoxville to a predominantly black suburb of Cincinnati, Ohio.

She remained close to her grandmother, however, spending both her sophomore and junior years of high school at the family home in Knoxville. Encouraged by several schoolteachers, Giovanni enrolled early at Fisk University, a prestigious, all-black college in Nashville, Tennessee. Unaccustomed to Fisk's traditions, the outspoken young woman came into conflict with the school's dean of women and was asked to leave. She returned to Fisk in , however, determined to be an ideal student. She accomplished her goal, becoming a leader in political and literary activities on campus during what would prove to be an important era in black history.

Giovanni had experienced racism firsthand during her childhood in the South. Random violence that erupted in and near Knoxville "was frightening," she later recalled in an autobiographical essay for CA.

James Baldwin & Nikki Giovanni, a conversation [FULL]

She was decidedly conservative in political outlook: during high school she had been a supporter of Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater, as well as an avid reader of books by Ayn Rand , famous for her philosophy of "objectivism" based on self-assertion, individualism, and competition. The poet credits a Fisk roommate named Bertha with successfully persuading her to embrace revolutionary ideals.

Nikki G: A Portrait of Nikki Giovanni in Her Own Words

In the wake of the civil rights movement and demonstrations against U. While Giovanni was at Fisk, a black renaissance was emerging as writers and other artists of color were finding new ways of expressing their distinct culture to an increasingly interested public. As Chauncey Mabe put it in a November, , Knight Ridder article, "The Black Arts Movement [was] a loosely organized aesthetic and political movement that rejected European concepts of art for its own sake, insisting instead that art must benefit and uplift blacks.

At that time, the organization was pressing the concept of "black power" to bring about social and economic reform. Giovanni's political activism ultimately led to her planning and directing the first Black Arts Festival in Cincinnati, held in Later that year, Giovanni graduated magna cum laude with a degree in history. This period was darkened, however, when Giovanni's beloved grandmother died.

The loss "stirred in her a sense of guilt and shame both for the way in which society had dealt with this strong, sensitive woman, to whom she had been so close and who had deeply influenced her life, as well as for the way she herself had left her alone to die," according to Mozella G. Mitchell in the Dictionary of Literary Biography.

Giovanni's first published volumes of poetry grew out of her response to the assassinations of such figures as Martin Luther King, Jr. Black Feeling, Black Talk which she borrowed money to publish and Black Judgement with a grant from Harlem Council of the Arts display a strong, militant African-American perspective as Giovanni explores her growing political and spiritual awareness. These early books, which were followed by Re: Creation , quickly established Giovanni as a prominent new African-American voice. Black Feeling, Black Talk , "sold more than ten thousand copies in its first year alone, making the author an increasingly visible and popular figure on the reading and speaking circuit.

Because of Giovanni's overt activism, her fame as a personality almost preceded her critical acclaim as a poet. She gave the first public reading of her work at Bird-land, a trendy New York City jazz club, to a standing-room-only audience. Not only are they directed at other black people whom [Giovanni] wanted to awaken to the beauty of blackness, but also at herself as a means of saturating her own consciousness.

Nikki G : a portrait of Nikki Giovanni in her own words

Critical reaction to Giovanni's early work focused on her more revolutionary poetry. Some reviewers found her political and social positions to be unsophisticated, while others were threatened by her rebelliousness. What is perhaps more important is that when the Black poet chooses to serve as political seer, he must display a keen sophistication. Sometimes Nikki oversimplifies and therefore sounds rather naive politically. When Walker says to Giovanni, 'I don't believe individual defiant acts like these will make for the revolution you want,' Giovanni replies, 'No, don't ever misunderstand me and my use of the term "revolution.

Throughout A Poetic Equation , the two talk about issues from how to raise a child to the Vietnam War to how to save the African-American race that white America is trying to destroy. Giovanni's first three volumes of poetry were enormously successful, answering as they did a need for inspiration, anger, and solidarity in those who read them.

She was among those who publicly expressed the feelings of people who had felt voiceless, vaulting beyond the usual relatively low public demand for modern poetry. Black Judgement alone sold six thousand copies in three months, almost six times the sales level expected of a book of its type. As she traveled to speaking engagements at colleges around the country, Giovanni was often hailed as one of the leading black poets of the new black renaissance.

The prose poem "Nikki-Rosa," Giovanni's reminiscence of her childhood in a close-knit African-American home, was first published in Black Judgement.


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In becoming her most beloved and most anthologized work, "Nikki-Rosa" also expanded her appeal to an audience well beyond followers of her more activist poetry. During this time, she also made television appearances, out of which the published conversation with Margaret Walker and one with James Baldwin emerged.

In , Giovanni took a teaching position at Rutgers University. That year she also gave birth to her son, Thomas. Her decision to have a child out of wedlock was understandable to anyone who knew her. Even as a young girl she had determined that the institution of marriage was not hospitable to women and would never play a role in her life. Following her success as a poet of the black revolution, Giovanni's work exhibited a shift in focus after the birth of her son. Her priorities had shifted to encompass providing her child with the security of a stable home life.

As she remarked to an interviewer for Harper's Bazaar , "To protect Tommy there is no question I would give my life.

Nikki G: A Portrait of Nikki Giovanni in Her Own Words

I just cannot imagine living without him. But I can live without the revolution. She also made several recordings of her poetry set against a gospel or jazz backdrop. According to Harper's Bazaar , Giovanni introduced the album at a free concert in a church in Harlem. Following her performance, 'the audience shouted its appreciation'. In addition to writing her own poetry, Giovanni used her boundless energy to offer exposure for other African-American women writers through NikTom, Ltd.

Travels to other parts of the world, including the Caribbean, also filled much of the poet's time and contributed to the evolution of her work. As she broadened her perspective, Giovanni began to review her own life. Gemini is a combination of prose, poetry, and other "bits and pieces.

What you have not come to terms with you do not write. But the essays contained in the volume—particularly one about her grandmother—were personal in subject matter and "as true as I could make it," she commented. But, as Giovanni noted in an interview several decades later, "I also recognize that there are [parts of] the book in which I'm simply trying to deal with ideas.

I didn't want it to be considered the definitive. It's far from that. It's very selective and how I looked at myself when I was twenty-five. In addition to writing for adults in Gemini and other works during the early s, Giovanni began to compose verse for children. Written for children of all ages, Giovanni's poems are unrhymed incantations of childhood images and feelings.

Spin a Soft Black Song , which she dedicated to her son, Tommy, covers a wealth of childhood interests, such as basketball games, close friends, moms, and the coming of spring. No cheek-pinching auntie, she explores the contours of childhood with honest affection, sidestepping both nostalgia and condescension. Focusing on African-American history, the collection explores issues and concerns specific to black youngsters.

In "Poem for Black Boys," for example, Giovanni wonders why young boys of color do not play runaway slave or Mau-Mau, identifying with the brave heroes of their own race rather than the white cowboys of the Wild West. Commenting on Ego-Tripping , a Kirkus Reviews contributor claimed: "When [Giovanni] grabs hold … it's a rare kid, certainly a rare black kid, who could resist being picked right up. Vacation Time contrasts with Giovanni's two earlier poetry collections for children by being "a much more relaxed and joyous collection which portrays the world of children as full of wonder and delight," according to Kay E.

Vandergrift in Twentieth-Century Children's Writers. Reviewing the work for the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books , Zena Sutherland argued that the rhythms often seem forced and that Giovanni uses "an occasional contrivance to achieve scansion. Mitchell, too, claimed: "One may be dazzled by the smooth way [Giovanni] drops all political and personal concerns [in Vacation Time ] and completely enters the world of the child and brings to it all the fanciful beauty, wonder, and lollipopping. The first work, a free-verse poem originally published in Black Feeling, Black Talk, Black Judgement , celebrates the pleasures of summer.

Many of the warm images presented in the picture book came directly from the author's childhood memories. Giovanni says she has found writing for children particularly fulfilling because she is a mother who reads to her son. These are the goals of all of Giovanni's poetry, here directed toward a younger and more impressionable audience.

Throughout the s and s Giovanni's popularity as a speaker and lecturer increased along with her success as a poet and children's author. She was featured in articles for such magazines as Ebony, Jet , and Harper's Bazaar. She also continued to travel, making trips to Europe and Africa.

Giovanni's sophistication and maturity continue to grow in My House. Her viewpoint, still firmly seated in black revolutionary consciousness, expanded further, balancing a wide range of social concerns. Her rhymes became more pronounced, more lyrical, more gentle. The themes of family love, loneliness, and frustration, which Giovanni had raged over in her earlier works, find softer expression in My House.

It is what it is to be a woman who has failed and is now sentimental about some things, bitter about some things, and generally always frustrated, always feeling frustrated on one of various levels or another. Paul called the book "a poetic tour through … a place rich with family remembrance, distinctive personalities, and prevailing love.

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