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Giovanni, Nikki 1943–

Nikki Giovanni 1943

Writer, educator, performer

Strong Spirit Fostered Early

Launched Writing Career

Works Garnered Praise and Notice

Poet of the People

Developed Academic Side of Career

Rebounded From Serious Illness

Selected writings

Sources

Nikki Giovanni began to be known in the late 1960s as one of the strongest voices of the newly emerging Black Arts movement. Along with other new black poets, such as Haki Madhubuti, Etheridge Knight, and Sonia Sanchez, Giovanni was published by Dudley Randalls Broadside Press. As Richard Barksdale and Keneth Kinnamon have written, these poets had a constructively emotional impact on the collective racial ego of black America. Giovanni in particular, declared Virginia C. Fowler in the introduction to Conversations With Nikki Giovanni, has been one of the most vital and eventually most famous voices in the Black Arts movements challenge to existing assumptions about poetry. With more than a dozen volumes of poetry to her credit, Nikki Giovanni has been instrumental in shaping the direction of contemporary black American poetry.

Nikki Giovanni was born on June 7, 1943, in Knox-ville, Tennessee, to Jones and Yolande Watson Giovanni. Shortly after her birth, the family moved first to Woodlawn, Ohio, a suburb of Cincinnati, then to Wyoming, Ohio, and ultimately to the black community of Lincoln Heights, Ohio. Giovannis father often had to work several jobs during these years. Giovanni, however, described her childhoodspent with her parents and older sister Garywith vivid and fond details in what her biographer, Virginia Fowler, called Giovannis signature poem, Nikki-Rosa from Black Judgement. Knowing that readers will often draw false conclusions about the factual details of ones life, Giovanni says they will probably talk about my hard childhood/and never understand that/all the while I was quite happy.

Strong Spirit Fostered Early

Despite poverty, the Giovannis provided hundreds of books and a piano for their daughters. The most famous line of the poem summarizes Giovannis subjective experience of her childhood: Black love is black wealth. In 1957 Nikki Giovanni decided to return to what she regarded as her spiritual home, the home of her maternal grandparents, John Brown and Emma Louvenia Watson in Knoxville, Tennessee. Young Nikki, her sister, and cousins had spent many summer vacations and other holidays at their grandparents

At a Glance

Born Yolande Cornelia Giovanni, Jr., on June 7, 1943, in Knoxville, TN; daughter of Jones (a probation officer) and Yolande Watson Giovanni; children: Thomas Watson. Education: Fisk University, BA, 1967; attended University of Cincinnati, 1961-63, University of Pennsylvania School of Social Work, 1968, Columbia University School of the Arts, 1968.

Career: Queens College (CUNY) and Rutgers University, teacher, 1969; NikTom, Ltd. (communications company), founder and publisher, 1970; Ohio State University, visiting professor of English, 1984; Mount Joseph on the Ohio, professor of creative writing, 1985-87; Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, visiting professor of English, 1987-89, professor of English, 1989-; Warm Hearth Writers Workshop, director, 1988-.

Member: State of Tennessee Literary Arts Festival, co-chair, 1986; Society of Magazine Writers, National Black Heroines for PUSH; Winnie Mandela Childrens Fund Committee; Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and Public Policy, board of directors, 1990-93.

Selected awards: Mademoiselle magazine, Highest Achievement Award, 1971; National Association of Radio and Television Announcers award, 1972, for Truth Is on Its Way; National Council of Negro Women, life membership and scroll, 1973; Cincinnati Post Post-Corbett Award, 1986; Oakland Museum Film Festival Silver Apple Award, 1988; Ohioana Library Award, 1988; Childrens Reading Roundtable of Chicago Award, 1988; NAACP, Woman of the Year, 1989. Honorary degrees from numerous institutions including Fisk University, Wilberforce University, and Illinois University.

Addresses: Agent c/o William Morrow, Inc., 105 Madison Avenue, NY, NY 10016. Office English Department, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, VA 24061.

house. Louvenia Watsons strong spirit, Fowler mentioned in her book, gave her granddaughter a sense of belonging in the world. Fowler described Giovannis radicalization process while she lived with her grandparents, saying that Louvenia instilled in her a belief in the importance of individual action, of the moral imperative to stand up and be counted whether your side wins or not.

It was at Austin High School in Knoxville that Giovanni began her education in African-American literature. According to Fowler, Giovannis English teacher throughout high school, Miss Alfredda Delaney, launched her on a course of reading Afro-American writers and required her to write about what she read. Giovanni left high school after the 11th grade because she was accepted to Fisk Universitys Early Entrants Program in 1960. However, she was dismissed after her first semester because she visited her grandparents at Thanksgiving without receiving formal permission from the University authorities.

In Gemini Giovanni explained that she was released from the school because her attitudes did not fit those of a Fisk woman. Giovanni returned to her parents home in Cincinnati, where she began working at Walgreens Drug Store and taking classes at the University of Cincinnati. When she reentered Fisk in 1964, she engaged in literary and radical activities, including reestablishing the universitys chapter of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), editing the student literary magazine, and participating in John O. Killens creative writing workshop.

Launched Writing Career

When Giovanni graduated with honors in history from Fisk in the spring of 1967, she returned to Cincinnati and continued to develop her interests in writing and political activity that had been fostered at Fisk. 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. Her grandmothers death in 1967, as much as the increasing activities of the Civil Rights movement, provided the impetus for much of her poetry in Black Feeling, Black Talk.

And as Martha Cook explained, her other publications consistently attack[ed] elitism in the Black Arts movement and praised writers whom she viewed as presenting a realistic yet positive picture of black life, including new and established voices. Giovannis other post graduate activities included organizing the first Cincinnati Black Arts Festival and Cincinnatis black theatrical group, The New Theatre. In May of 1967, Giovanni met H. Rap Brown at the Detroit Conference of Unity and Art, and, as Virginia Fowler described it, from this point forward, she was closely involved with many of the key figures of the Black Arts movement and the Black Power movement.

After a semester at the University of Pennsylvanias School of Social Work, in 1968, Giovanni moved to New York City, which would be her home for the next ten years. Although she received a grant from the National Foundation of the Arts to attend Columbia Universitys School of Fine Arts, she found she couldnt work with what Virginia Fowler labelled the conservative white literary critics who tried to tell her she could not write. At this point in 1968 Giovanni had her first collection of poetry privately published.

Works Garnered Praise and Notice

Giovannis second volume of poetry, Black Judgement, was published in 1969 with the assistance of a grant from the Harlem Council of the Arts. Sheila Weller of Mademoiselle magazine believed Giovanni to be one of the most powerful figures on the new black poetry sceneboth in language and appeal. Also during 1969, Giovanni gave birth to her son, Thomas Watson Giovanni. Giovanni later told Peter Bailey of Ebony magazine that she had a baby because I wanted to have a baby and that she didnt marry the father because I didnt want to get married, and I could afford not to get married. According to Martha Cook, Giovanni has remained unmarried and has consistently viewed her single motherhood as a positive choice.

During 1969 Giovanni began teaching at Queens College and Rutgers University. In 1970 William Morrow combined Giovannis first two collections of poetry and published them under the title Black Feeling, Black Talk/Black Judgement. During the same year, Dudley Randalls Broadside Press published Re: Creation, and in 1971, Gemini: An Extended Autobiographical Statement was published. These volumes of poetry deal with both personal and political topics, and with them, as Fowler noted, Giovanni enters the dialogue of the 1960s about black identity. Fowler also identified the poems rage against white America that was largely responsible for earning her the label of revolutionary poet.

The strong voice of a black female poet was emerging. Fowler explained that the question of female identity addressed in only a few poems of Black Judgement is a central theme of Re: Creation, and Barbara Christian has written that when Giovanni addresses herself to the problems of the black woman she puts all her poetic force, rap, and rhythm into illuminating the situation. What readers perceived to be a shift in emphasis from the political to the personal caused Ruth McClain of Black World to lament Giovannis transformation into an almost declawed, tamed Panther with bad teeth.

Poet of the People

During the two years between the publication of 1970s Re:Creation and 1972s My House, Giovanni began to travel overseas, including her first trip to Africa. It was also during these years that she began to act on her philosophy that poetry is the culture of a people, by taking her poetry to the people, as Fowler concluded. Giovanni did so with the first of many sound recordings. Truth Is On Its Way was produced in collaboration with the New York Community Choir. In addition she attended numerous public readings and appearancessometimes more than 200 in one yearincluding The Tonight Show on June 14, 1972, and Lincoln Centers Alice Tully Hall on July 25, 1972.

In an essay on black literary criticism, Margaret B. McDowell wrote that through Giovannis public readings and appearances she truly becomes poet of the people renew[ing] the tradition of the bard, prophet, or witness who sings or chants to inform the people. The poems contained in My House are suggestive of this time period in Giovannis life; in fact, Virginia Fowler suggested that if read as a whole they become a poetic autobiography of the first three decades of Giovannis life.

1978 saw the publication of what Anna T. Robinson has called her pivotal work, Cotton Candy on a Rainy Day, a volume that Robinson surmised will mandate that she be evaluated as a poet rather than a voice for a cause. In contrast to the lightness suggested by the title, the poems in Cotton Candy are, as Martha Cook has observed, not lighthearted or optimistic, as the positive connotations of cotton candy suggest. The same year that Cotton Candy was published, Giovannis father had a stroke and Giovanni decided to move with her son back to her parents home in Lincoln Heights, Ohio.

Developed Academic Side of Career

Giovanni brought out her next major volume of poetry in 1983 entitled Those Who Ride the Night Wind, dedicated to the courage and fortitude of those who ride the night winds [for whom] Life is a marvelous, transitory adventureand are determined to push us into the next century, galaxypossibility. This volume has received mixed reviews. Fowler explained that Those Who Ride marks an important change in poetic form for Giovanni, a change characterized by a new lineless form, consisting of groups of words or phrases separated by ellipses having the appearance of prose paragraphs. Fowler noted that this new lineless form allows Giovanni to retain the rhythmic effects on which she, as an oral poet, has always relied and compared the effect to a quilt, a powerful symbol of female art and creativity.

Paula Giddings, writing in Mari Evanss Black Women Writers, however, is not as enthusiastic about Giovannis lineless form and calls the collection hollow and filled with fractious thinking. Overall Giddings observed that after 1975, as Giovannis persona matured, her language, craft, and perceptions did not. Giovannis readers, like Giddings, William J. Harris, and Haki Madhubuti, all praise the early promise of Giovannis poetry. As Giddings wrote, Giovannis greatest challenge, as a poet, lies ahead, and Harris, also writing in Mari Evanss anthology, praised Giovanni as one of the most talented writers to come out of the black sixties, adding that he didnt want to lose her. As Harris concluded, she has the talent to create good, perhaps important, poetry, if only she has the will to discipline her craft.

Between 1983 and 1996, Giovanni went on hiatus from publishing any new poetry. This did not mean that she stayed out of the public eye however, publishing essay collections such as Sacred Cows and Other Edibles in 1988 and Racism 101 in 1993. In 1989 Giovanni accepted a permanent position as a professor of English at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, Virginia, leaving Ohio permanently for the first time since the late 1970s.

Rebounded From Serious Illness

In 1995 Giovanni made public that she had been suffering with cancer since the early 1990s and had to have numerous ribs and part of her lung removed in order to stop the spread of the disease. This accounted for her cutting back on promotional tours and for her lack of new poetry throughout most of the 1980s. It also explained to many critics and fans why she had chosen to teach and stay in a stable environment. But as Giovanni told Publishers Weekly, her choice to teach was almost inevitable, for if youre a poet you are trying to teach. I think being in a classroom keeps you up to date. I think that youd miss a lot if all you did was meet other writers; if you never saw another generation.

Giovanni used her time during her battle with cancer to rediscover her love of poetry and her purpose in the profession. As she commented to Jet magazine, You get this tumor and you dont die, so you feel you have this mission. Her mission to throw herself back into the literary world was one she took very seriously. In 1996 she published two childrens books, The Genie in the Jar and The Sun Is So Quiet and a year later, her first volume of poetry in fourteen years, Love Poems, hit bookstores. Like all of her previous material, it was well received by both critics and fans.

Giovanni began to do more touring as the 1990s came to a close, but remained faithful to her creative writing students at Virginia Polytechnic. She also produced another volume of poetry, Blues: For All the Changes: New Poems, in 1999, which contains poems on the subjects of nature, the little things that people look over or through everyday, as well as her personal battle with cancer. Also in 1999, she celebrated her 30th anniversary as writer, choosing to spend it with her students reading and writing poetry. The next few years were spent in the same fashion, with more public readings, but Giovanni also renewed her focus on social activism, examining the life of famous African Americans such as Tupac Shakur and Allen Iverson, as well as pushing for the exploration of space and other planets. She even spoke in front of NASA on this issue and her book Quilting the Black-Eyed Pea: poems & not quite poems, which came out in 2002, dedicates much of its subject matter to the issue of African Americans being the best candidates to explore space and unknown territories. According to The Americas Intelligence Wire, Giovanni compared, the life of an astronaut going to Mars to the life of slaves on a boatin the middle of an ocean, not knowing which way was home anymore.

Over the years, Giovanni has been canonized by many educational programs and her works have been converted into numerous media formats. She has also received a plethora of awards, ranging from the National Book Award to the NAACP Woman of the Year award. Throughout all of the changes in her life, Giovanni has remained faithful to provoking radical thought through poetry and activism, even if the methods have changed. She told the Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service, Being radical in the 21st century is different from being radical in the 60s. Were a lot older now. Sometimes being radical is voting Green. Maybe we can get something done. Maybe life can be better.

Selected writings

Poetry

Black Feeling, Black Talk, Broadside Press, 1968, 3rd ed., 1970.

Black Judgement, Broadside Press, 1969.

Black Feeling, Black Talk/Black Judgement, Morrow, 1970.

Re: Creation, Broadside Press, 1970.

Spin a Soft Black Song: Poems for Children, Hill & Wang, 1971; rev. ed. 1985.

My House, Morrow, 1972.

Ego Tripping and Other Poems for Young People, Lawrence Hill, 1973.

The Women and the Men, Morrow, 1975.

Cotton Candy on a Rainy Day, Morrow, 1978.

Vacation Time: Poems for Children, Morrow, 1980.

Those Who Ride the Night Winds, Morrow, 1983.

The Genie in the Jar, Holt, 1996.

The Selected Poems of Nikki Giovanni (1968-1995), Morrow, 1996.

The Sun Is So Quiet, Holt, 1996.

Love Poems, Morrow, 1997.

Blues: For All the Changes: New Poems, Morrow, 1999.

Quilting the Black-Eyed Pea: Poems and Not Quite Poems, Morrow, 2002.

Nonfiction

(Editor) Night Comes Softly: An Anthology of Black Female Voices, Medic Press, 1970.

Gemini: An Extended Autobiographical Statement on My First Twenty-Five Years of Being a Black Poet, Bobbs-Merrill, 1971; Viking, 1973; Penguin, 1976.

(With James Baldwin) A Dialogue: James Baldwin and Nikki Giovanni, Lippincott, 1972.

(With Margaret Walker) A Poetic Equation: Conversations Between Nikki Giovanni and Margaret Walker, Howard University Press, 1974.

(Editor with Jessie Carney Smith) Images of Blacks in American Culture: A Reference Guide to Information Sources, Greenwood, 1988.

Sacred Cows and Other Edibles, Morrow, 1988.

(Editor with Cathee Dennison) Appalachian Elders: A Warm Hearth Sampler, Pocahontas Press, 1991.

Racism 101, Morrow, 1993.

(Editor) Grand Mothers: A Multicultural Anthology of Poems, Reminiscences and Short Stories About the Keepers of Our Tradition, 1994.

Sound recordings

Truth Is on Its Way, with the New York Community Choir, Benny Diggs, director, Right-On Records, 1971.

Like a Ripple on a Pond, with the New York Community Choir, Benny Diggs, director, NikTom, distributed by Atlantic Recording Corporation, 1973.

The Way I Feel, with music composed by Arif Mardin. NikTom Records, distributed by Atlantic Recording Corporation, 1975.

Legacies: The Poetry of Nikki Giovanni, Folkways Records, 1976.

The Reason I Like Chocolate, Folkways Records, 1976.

Cotton Candy on a Rainy Day, Folkways Records, 1978.

Spirit to Spirit, videocassette of PBS production, directed by Mirra Banks, produced by Perrin Ireland, 1987.

Other

Adaptions: Spirit to Spirit: The Poetry of Nikki Giovanni, a poetry reading, produced by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Ohio Council on the Arts, directed by Mirra Banks, produced by Perrin Ireland, first aired in 1986. Performances: A Signal in the Land performed with the Johnson City Symphony Orchestra, 1987.

Contributor to numerous anthologies; author of columns One Womans Voice for Anderson-Moberg Syndicate of the New York Times and The Root of the Matter for Encore American and Worldwide News; managing editor of and contributor to Conversation; contributor to magazines, including Black Creation, Black World, Ebony, Encore, Essence, Freedomways, Journal of Black Poetry, Negro Digest, Saturday Review of Literature, and Umbra. Editorial consultant, Encore American and Worldwide News. A selection of Giovannis public papers are housed at Mugar Memorial Library of Boston University.

Sources

Books

Authors in the News, volume 1, Gale, 1976.

Barksdale, Richard, and Keneth Kinnamon, Black Writers of America: A Comprehensive Anthology, Macmillan, 1972.

Childrens Literature Review, volume 6, Gale, 1984.

Christian, Barbara, Black Feminist Criticism, Pergamon, 1985.

Contemporary Literary Criticism, Gale, volume 2, 1974; volume 4, 1975; volume 9, 1981.

Cook, Martha, Nikki Giovanni: Place and Sense of Place in Her Poetry, Southern Women Writers:The New Generation, edited by Tonette Bond Inge, U of Alabama P, 1990.

Dictionary of Literary Biography, volume 5, part 1: American Poets Since World War II, Gale, 1980; volume 41: Afro-American Poets Since 1955, Gale 1985.

Evans, Mari, editor, Black Women Writers, 1950-1980: A Critical Evaluation, Doubleday/Anchor Books, 1984.

Fowler, Virginia C, editor, Conversations With Nikki Giovanni, U Press of Mississippi, 1992. Fowler, Virginia C, Nikki Giovanni, Twayne, 1992.

Henderson, Stephen, Understanding the New Black Poetry: Black Speech and Black Music as Poetic References, Morrow, 1973.

Lee, Don L., Dynamic Voices I: Black Poets of the 1960s, Broadside Press, 1971.

McDowell, Margaret B., Groundwork for a More Comprehensive Criticism of Nikki Giovanni, Belief vs. Theory in Black American Literary Criticism, edited by Joe Weixlmann and Chester J. Fontenot, Penkevill Publishing Company, 1986.

Redmond, Eugene B. Drumvoices: The Mission of Afro-American Poetry, Anchor/Doubleday, 1976.

Robinson, Anna T. Nikki Giovanni: From Revolution to Revelation, State Library of Ohio, 1979.

Periodicals

American Visions, October 1999, p. 34.

Americas Intelligence Wire, February 6, 2003.

Black World, December 1970, pp. 102-104; January 1971; February 1971, pp. 62-64; April 1971; August 1971; August 1972, pp. 51-52; June 1973, pp. 14-21; July 1974, pp. 64-70.

Cincinnati Enquirer Magazine, July 8, 1973; April 20, 1986, pp. 4-8.

Ebony, February 1972; August 1972.

Essence, August 1981; March 1994.

Jet, May 22, 1995, p. 65.

Kirkus Reviews, January 1, 1974, p. 11.

Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service, November 20, 2002.

Library Journal, February 15, 1988, p. 169; November 1, 1992, p. 85.

Mademoiselle, December 1969; May 1973; December 1973; September 1975.

Massachusetts Review, 18 (1977), pp. 542-554.

Negro Digest, April 1969, pp. 82-84.

Newsweek, January 31, 1972, pp. 80-81.

Phylon, 37 (1976), pp. 100-112.

Publishers Weekly, November 13, 1972; May 23, 1980; December 18, 1987, p. 48; December 13, 1993, p. 54; June 28, 1999, p. 46.

Saturday Review, January 15, 1972, p. 34.

Time, April 6, 1970; January 17, 1972, pp. 63-64.

Washington Post Book World, May 19, 1974; March 8, 1981; February 14, 1988, p. 3.

Writers Digest, February 1989, pp. 30-34.

Mary Katherine Wainwright and Ralph G. Zerbonia

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Giovanni, Nikki 1943–

Nikki Giovanni 1943

Writer, educator, performer

At a Glance

Kicked out of Fisk

Launched Writing Career

Poet of the People

Selected Writings

Sources

Nikki Giovanni began to be known in the late 1960s as one of the strongest voices of the newly emerging Black Arts movement. Along with other new black poets, such as Haki Madhubuti, Etheridge Knight, and Sonia Sanchez, Giovanni was published by Dudley Randalls Broadside Press. As Richard Barksdale and Keneth Kinnamon have written, these poets had a constructively emotional impact on the collective racial ego of black America. Giovanni in particular, declared Virginia C. Fowler in the introduction to Conversations With Nikki Giovanni, has been one of the most vital and eventually most famous voices in the Black Arts movements challenge to existing assumptions about poetry. With more than ten volumes of poetry to her credit, Nikki Giovanni has been instrumental in shaping the direction of contemporary black American poetry.

Nikki Giovanni was born on June 7, 1943, in Knoxville, Tennessee, to Jones and Yolande Watson Giovanni. Shortly after her birth, the family moved first to Woodlawn, Ohio, a suburb of Cincinnati, then to Wyoming, Ohio, and ultimately to the black community of Lincoln Heights, Ohio. Giovannis father often had to work several jobs during these years. Giovanni, however, described her childhoodspent with her parents and older sister Garywith vivid and fond details in what her biographer, Virginia Fowler, called Giovannis signature poem, NikkiRosa from Black Judgement. Knowing that readers will often draw false conclusions about the factual details of ones life, Giovanni says they will probably talk about my hard childhood/and never understand that/all the while I was quite happy.

Despite poverty, the Giovannis provided hundreds of books and a piano for their daughters. The most famous line of the poem summarizes Giovannis subjective experience of her childhood: Black love is black wealth. In 1957, Nikki Giovanni decided to return to what she regarded as her spiritual home, the home of her maternal grandparents, John Brown and Emma Louvenia Watson in Knoxville, Tennessee. Young Nikki, her sister, and cousins had spent many summer vacations and other holidays at their grandparents house. Louvenia Watsons strong spirit, Fowler mentioned in her book, gave her granddaughter a sense of belonging in the world. Fowler describes Giovannis radicalization process while she lived with her grandparents, saying that Louvenia instilled in her a belief in the importance of individual action, of the moral imperative to stand up and be counted whether your side wins or not.

At a Glance

Born Yolande Cornelia Giovanni, Jr., on June 7, 1943, in Knoxville, TN; daughter of Jones (a probation officer) and Yolande Watson Giovanni; children: Thomas Watson, August 31, 1969. Education: Fisk University, B.A., 1967; attended University of Cincinnati, 1961-63, University of Pennsylvania School of Social Work, 1967, Columbia University School of the Arts, 1968.

Queens College (CUNY) and Rutgers University, teacher, 1969; NikTom, Ltd. (communications company), founder and publisher, 1970; Ohio State University, visiting professor of English, 1984; Mount Joseph on the Ohio, professor of creative writing, 1985-87; Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, visiting professor of English, 1987-89, professor of English, 1989; Warm Hearth Writers Workshop, director, 1988.

Member: State of Tennessee Literary Arts Festival, co-chair, 1986; Society of Magazine Writers, National Black Heroines for PUSH; Winnie Mandela Childrens Fund Committee; Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and Public Policy, board of directors, 1990-93.

Selected awards: Mademoiselle magazine, Highest Achievement Award, 1971; National Association of Radio and Television Announcers award, 1972, for Truth Is on Its Way; National Council of Negro Women, life membership and scroll, 1973; Outstanding Woman of Tennessee, 1985; Cincinnati Post Post-Corbett Award, 1986; Oakland Museum Film Festival Silver Apple Award, 1988, for Spirit To Spirit; Ohioana Library Award, 1988, for Sacred Cows, Childrens Reading Roundtable of Chicago Award, 1988, for Vacation Time. Honorary degrees from numerous institutions.

Addresses: Office English Department, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, VA 24061. Agent c/o William Morrow, Inc., 105 Madison Avenue, NY, NY 10016.

Kicked out of Fisk

It was at Austin High School in Knoxville that Giovanni began her education in African American literature. According to Fowler, Giovannis English teacher throughout high school, Miss Alfredda Delaney, launched her on a course of reading Afro-American writers and required her to write about what she read. Giovanni left high school after the 11th grade because she was accepted to Fisk Universitys Early Entrants Program in 1960. However, she was dismissed after her first semester because she visited her grandparents at Thanksgiving without receiving formal permission from the University authorities.

In Gemini, Giovanni explained that she was released from the school because her attitudes did not fit those of a Fisk woman. Giovanni returned to her parents home in Cincinnati, where she began working at Walgreens Drug Store and taking classes at the University of Cincinnati. When she reentered Fisk in 1964, she engaged in literary and radical activities, including reestablishing the universitys chapter of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), editing the student literary magazine, and participating in John O. Killens creative writing workshop.

Launched Writing Career

When Giovanni graduated with honors in history from Fisk in the spring of 1967, she returned to Cincinnati and continued her interests in writing and political activity that had been fostered at Fisk. 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 1968. Her grandmothers death in 1967 as much as the increasing activities of the Civil Rights movement provided the impetus for much of her poetry in Black Feeling, Black Talk.

And as Martha Cook explained, her other publications consistently attack[ed] elitism in the Black Arts movement and praised writers whom she viewed as presenting a realistic yet positive picture of black life, including new and established voices. Giovannis other post-graduate activities included organizing the first Cincinnati Black Arts Festival and Cincinnatis black theatrical group, The New Theatre. In May of 1967, Giovanni met H. Rap Brown at the Detroit Conference of Unity and Art, and, as Virginia Fowler described it, from this point forward, she was closely involved with many of the key figures of the Black Arts movement and the Black Power movement.

After a semester at the University of Pennsylvanias School of Social Work, in 1968, Giovanni moved to New York City, which would be her home for the next ten years. Although she received a grant from the National Foundation of the Arts to attend Columbia Universitys School of Fine Arts, she found she couldnt work with what Virginia Fowler labelled the conservative white literary critics who tried to tell her she could not write. At this point in 1968 Giovanni had her first collection of poetry privately published.

Giovannis second volume of poetry, Black Judgement, was published in 1969 with the assistance of a grant from the Harlem Council of the Arts. Sheila Weller of Mademoiselle magazine believed Giovanni to be one of the most powerful figures on the new black poetry sceneboth in language and appeal. Also during 1969, Giovanni gave birth to her son Thomas Watson Giovanni. Giovanni later told Peter Bailey of Ebony magazine that she had a baby because I wanted to have a baby and that she didnt marry the father because I didnt want to get married, and I could afford not to get married. According to Martha Cook, Giovanni has remained unmarried and has consistently viewed her single motherhood as a positive choice.

During 1969, Giovanni began teaching at Queens College and Rutgers University. In 1970, William Morrow combined Giovannis first two collections of poetry and published them under the title Black Feeling, Black Talk/ Black Judgement. During the same year, Dudley Randalls Broadside Press published Re: Creation, and in 1971, Gemini: An Extended Autobiographical Statement was published. These volumes of poetry deal with both personal and political topics, and with them, as Fowler noted, Giovanni enters the dialogue of the 1960s about black identity. Fowler also identified the poems rage against white America that was largely responsible for earning her the label of revolutionary poet.

The strong voice of a black female poet was emerging. Fowler explained that the question of female identity addressed in only a few poems of Black Judgement is a central theme of Re: Creation, and Barbara Christian has written that when Giovanni addresses herself to the problems of the black woman she puts all her poetic force, rap, and rhythm into illuminating the situation. What readers perceived to be a shift in emphasis from the political to the personal caused Ruth McClain of Black World to lament Giovannis transformation into an almost declawed, tamed Panther with bad teeth.

Poet of the People

During the two years between the publication of 1970s Re:Creation and 1972s My House, Giovanni began to travel overseas, including her first trip to Africa. It was also during these years that she began to act on her philosophy that poetry is the culture of a people, by taking her poetry to the people, as Fowler concluded. Giovanni did so with the first of many sound recordings, Truth Is on Its Way, produced in collaboration with the New York Community Choir. In addition, she attended numerous public readings and appearancessometimes more than 200 in one yearincluding The Tonight Show on June 14, 1972, and Lincoln Centers Alice Tully Hall on July 25, 1972.

In an essay on black literary criticism, Margaret B. McDowell wrote that through Giovannis public readings and appearances she truly becomes poet of the people.. renew[ing] the tradition of the bard, prophet, or witness who sings or chants to inform the people. The poems contained in My House are suggestive of this time period in Giovannis life; in fact, Virginia Fowler suggested that if read as a whole they become a poetic autobiography of the first three decades of Giovannis life.

In 1970 Giovanni founded NikTom, Ltd., a communications company that produced many of her subsequent sound recordings. Her achievements included honorary doctorates from various universities and being awarded the 1974 Ladies Home Journal Woman of the Year Award. In 1978, she published what Anna T. Robinson has called her pivotal work, Cotton Candy on a Rainy Day, a volume that Robinson surmised will mandate that she be evaluated as a poet rather than a voice for a cause.

In contrast to the lightness suggested by the title, the poems in Cotton Candy are, as Martha Cook has observed, not lighthearted or optimistic, as the positive connotations of cotton candy suggest. The same year that Cotton Candy was published, Giovannis father had a stroke and Giovanni decided to move with her son back to her parents home in Lincoln Heights, Ohio. Giovanni was to stay in Ohio until 1989, when she accepted a permanent position as a professor of English at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, Virginia.

1983 brought out Giovannis next major volume of poetry, Those Who Ride the Night Wind, dedicated to the courage and fortitude of those who ride the night winds [for whom] Life is a marvelous, transitory adventureand are determined to push us into the next century, galaxypossibility. This volume has received mixed reviews. Fowler explained that Those Who Ride marks an important change in poetic form for Giovanni, a change characterized by a new lineless form, consisting of groups of words or phrases separated by ellipses. having the appearance of prose paragraphs. Fowler noted that this new lineless form allows Giovanni to retain the rhythmic effects on which she, as an oral poet, has always relied and compared the effect to a quilt, a powerful symbol of female art and creativity.

Paula Giddings, writing in Mari Evans Black Women Writers, however, was not as enthusiastic about Giovannis lineless form and called the collection hollow and filled with fractious thinking. Overall Giddings observed that after 1975, as Giovannis persona matured, her language, craft, and perceptions did not. Giovannis readers, like Giddings, William J. Harris, and Haki Madhubuti, all praise the early promise of Giovannis poetry. As Giddings wrote, Giovannis greatest challenge, as a poet, lies ahead, and Harris, also writing in Mari Evanss anthology, praised Giovanni as one of the most talented writers to come out of the black sixties, adding that he didnt want to lose her. As Harris concluded, she has the talent to create good, perhaps important, poetry, if only she has the will to discipline her craft.

Throughout her poetic career, Giovanni has also published poetry for children, including Spin a Soft Black Song, 1971, Ego Tripping and Other Poems for Young Readers, 1973, Vacation Time, 1979; volumes of prose essays, including Gemini, 1971, Sacred Cows and Other Edibles, 1988, and Racism 101, 1993; and articles for numerous periodicals. Among her many honorary degrees, in 1988, she received an honorary doctorate of humanities from Fisk University.

Selected Writings

Poetry

Black Feeling, Black Talk, Broadside Press, 1968, 3rd ed., 1970.

Black Judgement, Broadside Press, 1969.

Black Feeling, Black Talk/Black Judgement, Morrow, 1979.

Re:Creation, Broadside Press, 1970.

Spin a Soft Black Song: Poems for Children, Hill & Wang, 1971; rev. ed. 1985.

My House, Morrow, 1972.

Ego Tripping and Other Poems for Young People, Lawrence Hill, 1973.

The Women and the Men, Morrow, 1975.

Cotton Candy on a Rainy Day, Morrow, 1978.

Vacation Time: Poems for Children, Morrow, 1980.

Those Who Ride the Night Winds, Morrow, 1983.

Nonfiction

(Editor) Night Comes Softly: An Anthology of Black Female Voices, Medic Press, 1970.

Gemini: An Extended Autobiographical Statement on My First Twenty-Five Years of Being a Black Poet, Bobbs-Merrill, 1971; Viking, 1973; Penguin, 1976.

(With James Baldwin) A Dialogue: James Baldwin and Nikki Giovanni, Lippincott, 1972.

(With Margaret Walker) A Poetic Equation: Conversations Between Nikki Giovanni and Margaret Walker, Howard University Press, 1974.

(Editor with Jessie Camey Smith) Images of Blacks in American Culture: A Reference Guide to Information Sources, Greenwood, 1988.

Sacred Cows . and Other Edibles, Morrow, 1988.

(Editor with Cathee Dennison) Appalachian Elders: A Warm Hearth Sampler, Pocahontas Press, 1991.

Racism 101, Morrow, 1993.

(Editor) Grand/Mothers: A Multicultural Anthology of Poems, Reminiscences and Short Stories About the Keeps of Our Tradition, 1994.

Sound Recordings

Truth Is on Its Way, with the New York Community Choir, Benny Diggs, director, Right-On Records, 1971.

Like a Ripple on a Pond, with the New York Community Choir, Benny Diggs, director, NikTom, distributed by Atlantic Recording Corporation, 1973.

The Way I Feel, with music composed by Arif Mardin. NikTom Records, distributed by Atlantic Recording Corporation, 1975.

Legacies: The Poetry of Nikki Giovanni, Folkways Records, 1976.

The Reason I Like Chocolate, Folkways Records, 1976.

Cotton Candy on a Rainy Day, Folkways Records, 1978.

Spirit to Spirit, videocassette of PBS production, directed by Mirra Banks, produced by Perrin Ireland, 1987.

Adaptions: Spirit to Spirit: The Poetry of Nikki Giovanni, a poetry reading, produced by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Ohio Council on the Arts, directed by Mirra Banks, produced by Perrin Ireland, first aired in 1986. Performances: A Signal in the Land performed with the Johnson City Symphony Orchestra, 1987.

Contributor to numerous anthologies; author of columns One Womans Voice for Anderson-Moberg Syndicate of the New York Times and The Root of the Matter for Encore American and Worldwide News; managing editor of and contributor to Conversation; contributor to magazines, including Black Creation, Black World, Ebony, Encore, Essence, Freedomways, Journal of Black Poetry, Negro Digest, Saturday Review of Literature, and Umbra. Editorial consultant, Encore American and Worldwide News.

A selection of Giovannis public papers are housed at Mugar Memorial Library of Boston University.

Sources

Books

Authors in the News, volume 1, Gale, 1976.

Barksdale, Richard, and Keneth Kinnamon, Black Writers of America: A Comprehensive Anthology, Macmillan, 1972.

Childrens Literature Review, volume 6, Gale, 1984.

Christian, Barbara, Black Feminist Criticism, Perga-mon, 1985.

Contemporary Literary Criticism, Gale, volume 2, 1974; volume 4, 1975; volume 9, 1981.

Cook, Martha, Nikki Giovanni: Place and Sense of Place in Her Poetry, Southern Women Writers: The New Generation, edited by Tonette Bond Inge, U of Alabama P, 1990.

Dictionary of Literary Biography, Gale, volume 5, part 1: American Poets Since World War II, 1980; volume 41: Afro-American Poets Since 1955, 1985.

Evans, Mari, editor, Black Women Writers, 1950-1980: A Critical Evaluation, Doubleday/Anchor Books, 1984.

Fowler, Virginia C., editor, Conversations With Nikki Giovanni, U Press of Mississippi, 1992.

Fowler, Virginia C., Nikki Giovanni, Twayne, 1992.

Henderson, Stephen, Understanding the New Black Poetry: Black Speech and Black Music as Poetic: References, Morrow, 1973.

Lee, Don L., Dynamic Voices I: Black Poets of the1960s, Broadside Press, 1971.

McDowell, Margaret B., Groundwork for a More Comprehensive Criticism of Nikki Giovanni, Belief vs. Theory in Black American Literary Criticism, edited by Joe Weixlmann and Chester J. Fontenot, Penkevill Publishing Company, 1986.

Redmond, Eugene B. Drumvoices: The Mission of Afro- American Poetry, Anchor/Doubleday, 1976.

Robinson, AnnaT. Nikki Giovanni: From Revolution to Revolution, State Library of Ohio, 1979.

Periodicals

Black World, December 1970, pp. 102-4; January 1971; February 1971, pp. 62-4; April 1971; August 1971; August 1972, pp. 51-2; June 1973, pp. 14-21;July 1974, pp. 64-70..

Cincinnati Enquirer Magazine, July 8, 1973; April 20,1986, pp. 4-8.

Ebony, February 1972; August 1972.

Essence, August 1981; March 1994.

Kirkus Reviews, January 1, 1974, p. 11.

Library Journal, February 15, 1988, p. 169; November 1, 1992, p. 85.

Mademoiselle, December 1969; May 1973; December 1973; September 1975.

Massachusetts Review, 18 (1977), pp. 542-54.

Negro Digest, April 1969, pp. 82-4.

Newsweek, January 31, 1972, pp. 80-1.

Phylon, 37 (1976), pp. 100-12.

Publishers Weekly, November 13,1972; May 23,1980; December 18,1987, p. 48; December 13,1993, p. 54.

Saturday Review, January 15, 1972, p. 34.

Time, April 6, 1970; January 17, 1972, pp.. 63-4.

Washington Post Book World, May 19, 1974; March 8,1981; February 14, 1988, p. 3.

Writers Digest, February 1989, pp. 30-4.

Mary Katherine Wainwright

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