Nikki Giovanni

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Nikki Giovanni

Born: June 7, 1943 (1943-06-07) (age 64)
Flag of Tennessee Knoxville, Tennessee
Occupation: writer, poet, activist
Nationality: Flag of United States United States
Writing period: 1960s-present

Yolande Cornelia "Nikki" Giovanni (born June 7, 1943 in Knoxville, Tennessee) is a Grammy-nominated American poet, activist and author. Giovanni is currently a Distinguished Professor of English at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.[1]


  • 1 Life
  • 2 Works by Giovanni
  • 3 Works about Giovanni
  • 4 References in popular culture
  • 5 Bibliography
  • 6 References
  • 7 External links


Nikki Giovanni was born June 7, 1943 in Knoxville, Tennessee to Yolande Cornelia, Sr. and Jones "Gus" Giovanni. [2] She grew up in Lincoln Heights, a suburb of Cincinnati, Ohio, and in 1960 began her studies at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, her grandfather's alma mater. She graduated in 1967 with honors, receiving a B.A. in history. Afterwards she went on to attend University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University. She gave birth to Thomas Watson Giovanni, her only child, in 1969 while visiting Cincinnati for Labor Day Weekend.[1] During that same year, she began teaching at Livingston College of Rutgers University. She has been teaching writing and literature at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, VA since 1987, and is a Distinguished Professor of English.

Giovanni is a lung cancer survivor and eventually lost a lung as a result.[3] Both her mother and sister died of lung cancer, and in 2005 she contributed an introduction to the book Breaking the Silence: Inspirational Stories of Black Cancer Survivors.[4]

Giovanni speaks to a group of mourners at Cassell Coliseum following the Virginia Tech massacre
Giovanni speaks to a group of mourners at Cassell Coliseum following the Virginia Tech massacre
Virginia Tech massacre
Media coverage
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Giovanni taught the Virginia Tech shooter Seung-Hui Cho in a poetry class. She described him as downright "mean" and, when she approached the department chair to have Cho taken out of her class, said she was willing to resign rather than continue teaching him.[5] On April 17, 2007, at the Virginia Tech Convocation commemorating the April 16 Virginia Tech massacre, Giovanni closed the ceremony with a chant poem, intoning, "We are sad today, and we will be sad for quite a while. We are not moving on. We are embracing our mourning. We are Virginia Tech... We do not understand this tragedy... No one deserves a tragedy." She also claimed that she immediately suspected that Cho might be the shooter when she heard about the shooting, and would have been shocked otherwise.[5]

Works by Giovanni

The civil rights and black power movements inspired her early poetry that was collected in Black Feeling, Black Talk (1967), Black Judgement (1968), and Re: Creation (1970). She has since written more than two dozen books including volumes of poetry, illustrated children's books, and three collections of essays.

Giovanni's writing has been heavily inspired by African American activists and artists. She has a tattoo with the words "Thug life" to honor Tupac Shakur, whom she admired.[6][7] Her book Love Poems (1997) was written in memory of him, and she has stated that she would "rather be with the thugs than the people who are complaining about them."[8] She also 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?"[9]

Giovanni has received numerous honors for her contributions to literature and society. She has received more than twenty honorary degrees from national colleges and universities and has been given keys to more than a dozen cities in the United States, including New York City, Los Angeles, Dallas, Miami, and New Orleans. Giovanni has been named woman of the year by several magazines, including Mademoiselle, Ladies' Home Journal, Ebony, and Essence. She has been awarded the Langston Hughes Medal for Outstanding Poetry and was the first recipient of the Rosa Parks Woman of Courage Award. She is also the recipient of three NAACP Image Awards and an a honorary membership of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.[10][11]

Those Who Ride the Night Winds (1983) acknowledged notable black figures. Giovanni collected her essays in the 1988 volume Sacred Cows...and Other Edibles. Her most recent works include Acolytes and On My Journey Now.

In 2004 Giovanni was nominated for a Best Spoken Word Grammy in the 46th Annual Grammy Awards for her album "The Nikki Giovanni Poetry Collection." She also featured on the track Ego Trip By Nikki Giovanni on Blackalicious' 2000 album Nia.

Works about Giovanni

On July 19, 2007 Cleveland's Karamu Theatre, the country's oldest continuously operating racially integrated theatre, premiered The Fire Inside: The Story and Poetry of Nikki Giovanni. The play recounts Giovanni's birth in Tennessee, her upbringing in Cincinnati, her education in books and politics in the 1960s and her maturity into a poet. Giovanni was present at the premier.[1]

References in popular culture

Giovanni has had a lasting impression on the media world, her name appearing in various songs and similar outlets. For example, she is referenced in Teena Marie's song "Square Biz," rapper Nas's "American Way" and "These Are Our Heroes" the Digable Planets' "Swoon Units," Latyrx's "Lady Don't Tek No," and Kanye West's "Hey Mama."


  • Black Feeling, Black Talk (1967)
  • Black Judgement (1968)
  • Re: Creation (1970)
  • Poem of Angela Yvonne Davis (1970) (Illustrated by Charles Bible)
  • My House (1972)
  • The Women and The Men (1975)
  • The Women Gather (1975) Broadside
  • Cotton Candy on a Rainy Day (1978)
  • Those Who Ride The Night Winds (1983)
  • Spin a Soft Black Song (1987)
  • Sacred Cows and Other Edibles (1988)
  • Ego-Tripping and Other Poems for Young People (1993)
  • Racism 101 (1994)
  • Shimmy Shimmy Shimmy Like My Sister Kate: Looking At The Harlem Renaissance Through Poems(1996)
  • The Selected Poems of Nikki Giovanni (1996)
  • The Sun is So Quiet (1996) (Illustrated by Ashley Bryan)
  • Love Poems (1997)
  • The Genie in the Jar (1998)
  • Blues: For All the Changes: New Poems (1999)
  • Quilting the Black-Eyed Pea: Poems and Not Quite Poems (2002)
  • The Prosaic Soul of Nikki Giovanni (2003)
  • Just For You! The Girls In The Circle (2004)
  • Rosa (2005)
  • On My Journey Now: Looking at African American History Through the Spirituals (2006)
  • Acolytes (2007)
  1. ^ a b Nikki Giovanni's Official Website, Biography Timeline
  2. ^ Knoxville's Metro Pulse article
  3. ^ For Poet Nikki Giovanni, a State of Grace The Washington Post, February 7, 2004
  4. ^ Nikki Giovanni simply an 'acolyte', BlackPressUSA
  5. ^ a b Police: Cho taken to mental health center in 2005
  6. ^ Nikki Giovanni - Spotlight - Interview December 2003, Ebony.
  7. ^ Poet, Tupac capture beauty beneath pain 5 April, 1997. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, The.
  8. ^ Barnes and Noble, Meet the Authors audio
  9. ^ Giovanni tells students to 'sail on', University of Michigan's The University Record, January 25, 1999
  11. ^ Nikki Giovanni's Official Website, Awards and Honors
  • Profile at Lavin
  • Poems, Essays and Biography for Nikki Giovanni
  • "Interview with poet Nikki Giovanni" for the WGBH series, Say Brother
  • "We are Virginia Tech" - convocation poem read by Giovanni
    • MSNBC video
    • MP3 Audio
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