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A Good Cry: What We Learn from Tears and Laughter by Nikki Giovanni

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Nikki Giovanni is one of Oprah Winfrey’s 25 “Living Legends,” and also one of my favorite people. When I was working for Berea College, I invited her there, and she later invited me and my late wife, Connie, to come to Virginia Tech when I arranged for Ron Rash to visit her campus at her request. While there, she invited Connie and me to visit one of her classes, and I’ll always remember how she introduced each of her students – sitting with her and us in a circle – by name and some distinguishing characteristics. The following week-end she read one of her poems at the Dedication of the Martin Luther King memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.  Nikki Giovanni was born in Knoxville, Tennessee, and – after her parents moved to Cincinnati – she spent the summers there with her grandparents and attended Austin High School there before being accepted at Fisk University, her grandfather’s alma mater, as an “early entrant” without graduating from high school. They expelled her, but she was later reinstated, established a chapter of SNCC there, published an article in Negro Digest about gender questions in the Movement, and graduated with honors in history. From there she went to the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Work and the Columbia University MFA Program, graduating from neither, but becoming very active in Harlem’s Black Arts Movement, self-publishing her first book of poetry before being “discovered” by New York publishers that sold unprecedented numbers of her poetry books. Since 1987 she has taught at Virginia Tech. This book is especially endearing because it includes short excerpts of her prose as well as poems. The title prepares us for the very personal nature of this collection that gives us a window into sources of her sadness as well as her joy. A Good Cry  contains both poems and prose vignettes. She calls on inner city and Appalachian youth to “dream of new frontiers” and even proposes that high school end in the 10th grade and college last for six years, including community service and study abroad. Addressing an eclectic array of subjects in this book, she honors the late Maya Angelou and other friends, attributes a rightful place to hip-hop within African-American culture, and looks back on her own life. Library Journal gave A Good Cry  a starred review summing it up this way: “Plainspoken, moving, and direct, the multi-award-winning poet Giovanni draws a revealing line between heart and history in this 27th collection.”

New York: William Morrow: HarperCollins, a 2018 paperback reprint of a 2017 release. 111 pages. Trade paperback.