Nikki Giovanni

Born Yolande Cornelia Giovanni. Jr, in Knoxville, Tennessee, Giovanni was the younger of two daughters in a close-knit family. She gained an intense appreciation for African American culture and heritage from her grandmother, explaining in an interview, “I come from a long line of storytellers.” This early exposure to the power of spoken language influenced Giovanni’s career as a poet, particularly her sophisticated use of vernacular speech. When Giovanni was a young child, she moved with her parents from Knoxville to a predominantly black suburb of Cincinnati, Ohio but remained close to her grandmother. Giovanni was encouraged by several schoolteachers and enrolled early at Fisk University, a prestigious HBCU (historically Black college or university) in Nashville, Tennessee. A literary and cultural renaissance was emerging at Fisk, as writers and other artists of color collaborated in cultural projects that explored and delineated the possibilities of Black identity.
Nikki Giovanni is one of America’s foremost poets. Over the course of a long career, Giovanni has published numerous collections of poetry—from her first self-published volume Black Feeling Black Talk (1968) to New York Times best-seller Bicycles: Love Poems (2009)—several works of nonfiction and children’s literature, and multiple recordings, including the Emmy-award nominated The Nikki Giovanni Poetry Collection (2004). Her most recent publications include Make Me Rain: Poems and Prose (2020), Chasing Utopia: A Hybrid (2013) and, as editor, The 100 Best African American Poems (2010). A frequent lecturer and reader, Giovanni has taught at Rutgers University, Ohio State University, and Virginia Tech, where she is a University Distinguished Professor.

Born Yolande Cornelia Giovanni. Jr, in Knoxville, Tennessee, Giovanni was the younger of two daughters in a close-knit family. She gained an intense appreciation for African American culture and heritage from her grandmother, explaining in an interview, “I come from a long line of storytellers.” This early exposure to the power of spoken language influenced Giovanni’s career as a poet, particularly her sophisticated use of vernacular speech. When Giovanni was a young child, she moved with her parents from Knoxville to a predominantly black suburb of Cincinnati, Ohio but remained close to her grandmother. Giovanni was encouraged by several schoolteachers and enrolled early at Fisk University, a prestigious HBCU (historically Black college or university) in Nashville, Tennessee. A literary and cultural renaissance was emerging at Fisk, as writers and other artists of color collaborated in cultural projects that explored and delineated the possibilities of Black identity.
Giovanni’s first published volumes of poetry grew out of her response to the assassinations of such figures as Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Medgar Evers, and Robert Kennedy, and the pressing need she saw to raise awareness of the plight and the rights of Black people. Black Feeling Black Talk (1968) and Black Judgement (1968) explore Giovanni’s growing political and spiritual awareness. These early books, followed by Re: Creation (1970), quickly established Giovanni as a prominent new voice in African American literature. Black Feeling Black Talk sold over ten thousand copies in its first year alone.She publicly expressed feelings of oppression, anger, and frustration; in doing so, she found new audiences beyond the usual poetry-reading public.

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