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Poet and Activist Nikki Giovanni


Yolande Cornelia “Nikki” Giovanni, Jr. is an American poet, writer, commentator, activist, and educator, considered by many as the most well-known African American poets. Born in 1943, Giovanni emerged as a prominent voice of the Black Arts Movement, and helped established the presence of African American in the field of culture after the success of the Civil Rights Movement.

Nikki Giovanni was born in Knoxville, Tennessee, and successively attended Austin High School and Fisk University. Graduate school was attended by Giovanni at the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University. After graduating, she began teaching, as well as exploring the dimensions of her artistic talents. In 2015 Giovanni was named one of the Library of Virginia’s “Virginia Women in History” for her contributions to poetry, education, and society. This added to numerous other awards which acknowledge her impressive contribution to literature and to popularizing poetry amongst African Americans.

Nikki Giovanni released her first volume of poetry in 1967 under the name “Black Feeling, Black Talk”, an initiative which had a large echo at the time. Although her initial line of work was fine tuned to the context of the time, being more radical and militant, future tendencies will make her a finer and more discreet observer of human nature. The 1970s will mark a transition towards internal themes related to the life of the African American community. She put for the first time in light the relationship between men and women in a family of African American, acknowledging the difficult context that was imposing family relationship to evolve at the same time with social changes that were reshaping the American society.

Nikki Giovanni commemorated rap legend Tupac Shakur in her book “Love Poems”, which was released in 1997, and was given a warm welcome from the fans which were still mourning after the shocking death. Giovanni embraced writing children’s books as a way of promoting issues concerning social justice and racial equality. Amongst the themes explored we can mention Abraham Lincoln and the legendary figure of the civil rights movements, Rosa Parks. Giovanni was herself an activist which never stopped promoting the values she considered to be just.

Nikki Giovanni was somehow involved indirectly with the Virginia Tech shooting which took place on April 16, 2007. The mass murderer, Seung-Hui Cho, was a student in her poetry class, which made things quite difficult for Giovanni, when she was requested to deliver a speech at the end of the commemorative ceremony. IN the words that she assembled, she was able to accurately describe the arbitrary behind the absurd act, by comparing it with crisis which shape poor communities worldwide. She made direct reference to problems of the black continent which generate the same amount of sufferance on a daily basis. The iconic “We are Virginia Tech” acted as a commitment that such tragedies are unable to destabilize institutions which are built around lasting values.

In 2009, Giovanni was commissioned by National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered” to compose a poem for the inauguration of President Barack Obama. The poem was read at the Lincoln Memorial in a ceremony which marked two centuries since the birth of the great president. Many of Giovanni’s poems are inspired by her childhood and its most recent volume “Chasing Utopia: A Hybrid”, released in 2013, brings back memories related to some of the most important persons in her life, her mother, grandmother, and sister.

Nikki Giovanni has received a lot of awards in her career, confirming each time that she was emblematic for the American society in the second half of the 20th century, as well as today. Langston Hughes Medal and the NAACP Image Award are just a few of the powerful recognitions she has given. Even Oprah Winfrey took an active measure to measure the inestimable contribution of Giovanni and included her on the unofficial list of twenty-five “Living Legends”. She has also been given keys to more than a dozen cities, including New York, Los Angeles, Dallas, Miami, and New Orleans. Nikki Giovanni is a lung cancer survivor, which made her a supporter of the awareness movement and an active fighter for better medical services for the underprivileged.

Poet Nikki Giovanne chatted candidly with talk show host Vanessa Richardson about her upcoming projects and more!

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