Nikki Giovanni Unisex T-Shirt
$ 24.99 – $ 34.99
Finally, a way to show your respect for some of the greatest icons, legends and pioneers that paved the way past and present. Rock this gear in style and bring back the moments that made you, memories they gave you and/or lessons they taught you. Scroll down for a history lesson with some of our favorite clips.
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1975 interview with poet Nikki Giovanni
Yolande Cornelia “Nikki” Giovanni Jr. (born June 7, 1943) is an American poet, writer, commentator, activist, and educator. One of the world’s most well-known African-American poets, her work includes poetry anthologies, poetry recordings, and nonfiction essays, and covers topics ranging from race and social issues to children’s literature. She has won numerous awards, including the Langston Hughes Medal and the NAACP Image Award. She has been nominated for a Grammy Award for her poetry album, The Nikki Giovanni Poetry Collection. Additionally, she has been named as one of Oprah Winfrey‘s 25 “Living Legends”.
Giovanni gained initial fame in the late 1960s as one of the foremost authors of the Black Arts Movement. Influenced by the Civil Rights Movement and Black Power Movement of the period, her early work provides a strong, militant African-American perspective, leading one writer to dub her the “Poet of the Black Revolution”. During the 1970s, she began writing children’s literature, and co-founded a publishing company, NikTom Ltd, to provide an outlet for other African-American women writers. Over subsequent decades, her works discussed social issues, human relationships, and hip hop. Poems such as “Knoxville, Tennessee” and “Nikki-Rosa” have been frequently re-published in anthologies and other collections.
Giovanni has taught at Queens College, Rutgers, and Ohio State, and is currently a University Distinguished Professor at Virginia Tech. Following the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007, she delivered a chant-poem at a memorial for the shooting victims.
JAMES BALDWIN & NIKKI GIOVANNI – A CONVERSATION (1971) Complete
The Civil Rights Movement and Black Power movements inspired her early poetry that was collected in Black Feeling, Black Talk (1968), which sold over ten thousand copies in its first year, in Black Judgement (1968), selling six thousand copies in three months, and in Re: Creation (1970). All three of these early works aided in establishing Giovanni as a new voice for African Americans.(30) In “After Mecca”: Women Poets and the Black Arts Movement, Cheryl Clarke cites Giovanni as a woman poet who became a significant part of the Civil Rights and Black Power Movement. Giovanni is commonly praised as one of the best African-American poets emerging from the 1960s Black Power and Black Arts Movements. Her early poems that were collected in the late 1960s and early 1970s are seen as radical as and more militant than her later work. Her poetry is described as being “politically, spiritually, and socially aware”. Evie Shockley describes Giovanni as “epitomizing the defiant, unapologetically political, unabashedly Afrocentric, BAM ethos”. Her work is described as conveying “urgency in expressing the need for Black awareness, unity, [and] solidarity.” Likewise, Giovanni’s early work has been considered to be “polemic,” and “incendiary.” Examples of poems in which she vehemently advocated for change include “The True Import of Present Dialogue Black vs. Negro” (1968), “Poem for Black Boys” (1968) and “A Litany for Peppe” (1970).
Not only did Giovanni write about racial equality, but she also advocated for gender equality, as well. In fact, Odon states that “Giovanni’s realignment of female identity with sexuality is crucial to the burgeoning feminist movement within the black community.” In the poem, “Revolutionary Dreams” (1970), Giovanni discusses gender and objectification. She writes, “Woman doing what a woman/Does when she’s natural/I would have a revolution” (lines 14-16) Another example of a poem that encourages sexual equality is “Woman Poem” (1968). In “Woman Poem,” Giovanni shows that the Black Arts Movement and racial pride were not as liberating for women as they were for men (Virginia Fowler, Introduction to theCollected Works of Nikki Giovanni). In “Woman Poem,” Giovanni describes how pretty women become sex objects “and no love/or love and no sex if you’re fat/get back fat black woman be a mother/grandmother strong thing but not woman.”
Giovanni herself takes great pride in being a “Black American, a daughter, mother, and a Professor of English”. Giovanni is also known for her use of African American Vernacular English. She has since written more than two dozen books, including volumes of poetry, illustrated children’s books, and three collections of essays. Her work is said to speak to all ages, and she strives to make her work easily accessible and understood by both adults and children. (29) Her writing, heavily inspired by African-American activists and artists, also reflects the influences of issues of race, gender, sexuality, and the African-American family. Her book Love Poems (1997) was written in memory of Tupac Shakur, and she has stated that she would “rather be with the thugs than the people who are complaining about them.” Additionally, in 2007 she wrote a children’s picture book titled Rosa, which centers on the life of Civil Rights leader Rosa Parks. In addition to this book reaching number three on the New York Best Seller list, it also received the Caldecott Honors Award, and its illustrator, Brian Collier, received the Coretta Scott King Award.
Giovanni’s poetry reaches more readership through her active engagement with live audiences. She gave her first public reading at the New York City jazz spot, Birdland. Her public expression of “oppression, anger, and solidarity” as well as her political activism allow her to reach more than just the poetic circles. After the birth of her son in 1969, Giovanni recorded several of her poems with a musical backdrop of jazz and gospel. She began to travel all around the world and speak and read to a wider audience. Even though Giovanni’s earlier works were known to carry a militant, revolutionary tone, Giovanni communicated “a global sense of solidarity amongst oppressed peoples in the world” in her travels. It is in this sense of human unity in which Giovanni aligns herself with the beliefs of Martin Luther King, Jr. Like King, Giovanni believes a unified, collective government must be made up of the everyday, ordinary citizen, regardless of race, ethnicity, or gender. In the 1970s and ’80s her popularity as a speaker increased even more. In 1972 Giovanni interviewed Muhammad Ali on Soul!
Giovanni is often interviewed regarding themes pertaining to her poetry such as gender and race. In an interview entitled “I am Black, Female, Polite”, Peter Bailey questions her regarding the role of gender and race in the poetry she writes. Bailey specifically addresses the critically acclaimed poem “Nikki-Rosa,” and questions whether it is reflective of the poet’s own childhood and her experiences in her community. In the interview, Giovanni stresses that she did not like constantly reading the trope of the black family as a tragedy and that “Nikki-Rosa” demonstrates the experiences that she witnessed in her communities. For example, Giovanni writes about her happy childhood as: “Black love is Black wealth and they’ll/probably talk about my hard childhood/and never understand that/all the while I was quite happy” (lines 30-33) Specifically, the poem deals with black folk culture and touches on such gender, race, and social issues as alcoholism and domestic violence and not having an indoor bathroom.
Giovanni’s poetry in the late 1960s and early 1970s addressed black womanhood and black manhood among other themes. In a book she co-wrote with James Baldwin entitled A Dialogue, the two authors speak blatantly about the status of the black male in the household. Baldwin challenges Giovanni’s opinion on the representation of black women as the “breadwinners” in the household. Baldwin states: “A man is not a woman. And whether he’s wrong or right… Look, if we’re living in the same house and you’re my wife or my woman, I have to be responsible for that house.” Conversely, Giovanni recognizes the black man’s strength, whether or not he is “responsible” for the home or economically advantaged. The interview makes it clear that regardless of who is “responsible” for the home, the black woman and the black man should be dependent on one another. In a 1972 Soul! interview with Mohammed Ali, Giovanni uses her popularity as a speaker to a broader audience to read some of her essay “Gemini” from her book, Gemini. In the excerpt from that essay, Giovanni intones, “we are born men and women…we need some happiness in our lives, some hope, some love…I really like to think a black, beautiful loving world is possible.” Such themes appeared throughout her early poetry which focused on race and gender dynamics in the black community.
Giovanni tours nationwide and frequently speaks out against hate-motivated violence. At a 1999 Martin Luther King Day event, she recalled the 1998 murders of James Byrd, Jr. and Matthew Shepard: “What’s the difference between dragging a black man behind a truck in Jasper, Texas, and beating a white boy to death in Wyoming because he’s gay?”
Those Who Ride the Night Winds (1983) acknowledged black figures. Giovanni collected her essays in the 1988 volume Sacred Cows … and Other Edibles. Her more recent works include Acolytes, a collection of 80 new poems, and On My Journey Now. Acolytes is her first published volume since her 2003 Collected Poems. The work is a celebration of love and recollection directed at friends and loved ones, and it recalls memories of nature, theater, and the glories of children. However, Giovanni’s fiery persona still remains a constant undercurrent in Acolytes, as some of the most serious verse links her own life struggles (being a black woman and a cancer survivor) to the wider frame of African-American history and the continual fight for equality.
Giovanni’s collection Bicycles: Love Poems (2009) is a companion work to her 1997 Love Poems. Both works touch on the deaths of her mother, her sister, and those massacred on the Virginia Tech campus. “Tragedy and trauma are the wheels” of the bicycle. The first poem (“Blacksburg Under Siege: 21 August 2006”) and the last poem (“We Are Virginia Tech”) reflect this. Giovanni chose the title of the collection as a metaphor for love itself, “because love requires trust and balance.”
In Chasing Utopia: A Hybrid (2013), Giovanni describes falling off of a bike and her mother saying, “Come here, Nikki and I will pick you up.” She has explained that it was comforting to hear her mother say this, and that “it took me the longest to realize – no, she made me get up myself.” Chasing Utopia continues as a hybrid (poetry and prose) work about food as a metaphor and as a connection to the memory of her mother, sister, and grandmother. The theme of the work is love relationships.
In 2004, Giovanni was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album at the 46th Annual Grammy Awards for her album The Nikki Giovanni Poetry Collection. This was a collection of poems that she read against the backdrop of gospel music.(29) She also featured on the track “Ego Trip by Nikki Giovanni” on Blackalicious‘s 2000 album Nia. In November 2008, a song cycle of her poems, Sounds That Shatter the Staleness in Lives by Adam Hill, was premiered as part of the Soundscapes Chamber Music Series in Taos, New Mexico.
She was commissioned by National Public Radio’s All Things Considered to create an inaugural poem for President Barack Obama. The poem, entitled “Roll Call: A Song of Celebration,” ends with the following enthusiastic, optimistic three lines: “Yes We Can/Yes We Can/Yes We Can.” Giovanni read poetry at the Lincoln Memorial as a part of the bi-centennial celebration of Lincoln’s birth on February 12, 2009.
Giovanni was part of the 2016 Writer’s Symposium by the Sea at Loma Nazarene University. The University of California Television (UCTV) published the readings of Giovanni at the symposium. In October 2017 Giovanni published her newest collection A Good Cry: What We Learn From Tears and Laughter. This collection includes poems that pay homage to the greatest influences on her life who have passed away, including close friend Maya Angelou who died in 2014. Giovanni often reads from her book. In one reading she shares her poem, “I Married My Mother.” In 2017, Giovanni presented at a TEDx event. Here she read the poem, “My Sister and Me.” She called her and her sister, “Two little chocolate girls.” After reading the poem she claims, “Sometimes you write a poem because damnit, you want to.”-
Nikki Giovanni – Like A Ripple On A Pond (1973)
Nikki Giovanni – Gemini
Nikki Giovanni Reads her own Poems
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