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.
These poems are selected from her first six poetry collections with some bonus poems tossed in. It is a wonderful introduction to her work or a way to get deeper into it.
New York: William Morrow, 1996. 292 pages with a Title and First Line Index and an Introduction by her partner, Virginia C. Fowler. Hardback in dust jacket.