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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Renowned Poet Nikki Giovanni Interview Part 1

Nikki Giovanni is a world-renowned poet, writer, commentator, activist, and educator. Her legacy spans over thirty years as she is one of the most widely-read American poets. Giovanni remains as determined and committed as ever to the fight for civil rights and equality. Ms. Giovanni reflects on African American identity and culture in her collections of work, such as Black Feeling, Black Talk and Black Feeling, Black Talk, Black Judgement. Always insisting on presenting the truth as she sees it, she has maintained a prominent place as a strong voice on social issues and experiences. Her emphasis is on the empowerment of the individual, on how one can make a difference not just in oneself but through others, through love and not hate, through touch and feeling.

On June 7, 1943, Yolanda Cornelia "Nikki" GIOVANNI was born in Knoxville, Tennessee. She grew up in Lincoln Heights, an all-black suburb of Cincinnati, Ohio. She and her sister spent their summers with their grandparents in Knoxville, and she graduated with honors from Fisk University, her grandfather's alma mater, in 1968. She published her first book of poetry, Black Feeling Black Talk, in 1968, and within the next year published a second book, thus launching her career as a writer.

Giovanni's honors and awards have been abundant throughout her career. The recipient of some twenty-five honorary degrees and over thirty awards. She is an honorary member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority and has received Life Membership and Scroll from The National Council of Negro Women. She has received the keys to more than two dozen cities. A scientist who admires her work even named a new species of bat he discovered for her! She is the author of some 30 books for both adults and children, Nikki Giovanni is a University Distinguished Professor at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia.

Good Afternoon Ms. Giovanni. Thank you for participating in this interview today. It is an honor and a privilege. 

Ms. Giovanni: Thank you.

Well, I’m a southern girl in Alabama, what has growing up in Knoxville, Tennessee taught you that no other place has?

Ms. Giovanni: Well, you only grow up in one place. (laughs) Being a Tennessean by birth, I think that, especially from the hills, I think that it would have been a different experience had I been born, for example in Memphis instead of Knoxville. Because Memphis is on the Mississippi river and Knoxville is in the Appalachian hills. So I come from a storytelling tradition instead of a blues tradition for example.

One of my favorite collections of yours is the 100 Best African American Poems with cd.

Ms. Giovanni: Thank you.

Can you tell me how this project came about? And how was it working with such talented artists as Sonia Sanchez, Ruby Dee and Novella Nelson to name a few?

Ms. Giovanni: Ruby Dee and Novella Nelson are my sorority sisters which you may or may not know.  I have known them forever, so I invited them down to do a reading with me, and they agreed to come. Which was very nice. The book came to me. Every twenty years or so, the publishers do a book on the best African American short stories, best African American poems;  so I was invited to do it.

Was there a live audience during recording?

Ms. Giovanni: No, no we did it in the studio, so there were just about 20 people in the studio.

Since you combine music with poetry, does music stem from poetry or poetry from music? 

Ms. Giovanni: Well, they probably, (laughs) that the chicken or the egg, they probably both came out, humans probably  imitated the sounds that they heard, which came out of  music and it got refined into words. And that’s what you get.

Is there a distinct difference between being a spoken word artist and a poet?

Ms. Giovanni: I think that spoken word is the next step. Because you frequently cannot read spoken word and get what the author intended. The way that you have to hear it, so I think it’s just another step.

What has influenced your poetry the most? 

Ms. Giovanni: I love, I’m a big fan of history, I think that a lot of the history has influenced me.

Being a poet is not always financially rewarding, what do you say to those poets as a successful business woman and owner of your own publishing company to poets who are trying to get published in today’s market?

Ms. Giovanni: You have the internet, you can do a lot on your own, you can blog, you can set up publishing in a way that was a lot easier than when we were coming up.  I would say if you’re interested in writing, you should write.


Please stay tuned for the continuation of my interviews with Nikki Giovanni for the entire month of July. Check back to see what she has to say about President Obama, Fredrick Douglass, parental loss, Tupac Shakur and more. 

We will discuss Ms. Giovanni's poems tomorrow along with the debut of one of our up and coming poets. The poet appearing tomorrow will automatically be entered into the Spotlight Poetry contest. So please stop by to offer he or she some poet love and support, plus you the reader will have to vote on which poet receives the prize and becomes our July Spotlight Poet of the Month. There is still time to enter the poetry contest, just click on the Spotlight Poetry Contest tab at the top of the page.

So stay tuned. And please leave a comment, question or thought about a particular poem or experience. You never know who may be reading them (*wink, wink*) 

Stay tuned.


One of My Favorite Nikki Giovanni Poems
Ego Tripping (there may be a reason why)

I was born in the congo
I walked to the fertile crescent and built
    the sphinx
I designed a pyramid so tough that a star
    that only glows every one hundred years falls
    into the center giving divine perfect light
I am bad
I sat on the throne
    drinking nectar with allah
I got hot and sent an ice age to europe
    to cool my thirst
My oldest daughter is nefertiti
    the tears from my birth pains
    created the nile
I am a beautiful woman
I gazed on the forest and burned
    out the sahara desert
    with a packet of goat's meat
    and a change of clothes
I crossed it in two hours
I am a gazelle so swift
    so swift you can't catch me
    For a birthday present when he was three
I gave my son hannibal an elephant
    He gave me rome for mother's day
My strength flows ever on
My son noah built new/ark and
I stood proudly at the helm
    as we sailed on a soft summer day
I turned myself into myself and was
    men intone my loving name
    All praises All praises
I am the one who would save
I sowed diamonds in my back yard
My bowels deliver uranium
    the filings from my fingernails are
    semi-precious jewels
    On a trip north
I caught a cold and blew
My nose giving oil to the arab world
I am so hip even my errors are correct
I sailed west to reach east and had to round off
    the earth as I went
    The hair from my head thinned and gold was laid
    across three continents
I am so perfect so divine so ethereal so surreal
I cannot be comprehended except by my permission
I mean...I...can fly
    like a bird in the sky...

~ Nikki Giovanni


Do you have a favorite Nikki Giovanni poem? What is it and why is it your favorite?


  1. Awesome. I have always loved Ms. Giovanni's writings. As a matter of fact she is one of my inspirations for becoming a writer.
    Thanks for sharing.

  2. Thank you so much for this interview!! It was so wonderful reading it. I think my favorite one would be We are Virginia Tech, which is more her convocation address actually, but I love it, probably because it has a symbolic meaning for me.

  3. What a lovely and powerful poem! Enjoyed the interview & look forward to the next installment.

  4. Wow. Just...WOW! Thanks for sharing this instalment of the interview. Can;t wait to see more!

  5. Great interview. That's a poerful poem. I feel like I've read it before.

  6. Wow--an interview with Nikki Giovanni! Well done, Lena. I am looking forward to reading the rest.

    I received the book I won in your last contest, btw. Thanks so much.

  7. Thank you. This poem is one of my favorites. It makes me feel like I can do anything I want or put my mind to because as she puts it, "I'm bad."

  8. I will be returning to read each installment of the interview. Thanks for bringing us words from this inspiring woman/poet/author!

  9. That was the first poem I read in school in my english class. Our assignment was to pick from a selected poets. She was not selected neither were any other A.A. but I had selected her because I seen her poster on one of my A.A. teachers board. (yes, my mama was called to the school, BAD Mistake, she tongue rolled on the teacher, assist principal and the principal, then went to the district)

  10. Awesome job, Lena! I especially liked your question regarding poetry and music. I also really liked Ms. Giovanni's explanation of the difference between spoken word and poetry. That's exactly how I view it as well.

    My favorite Nikki Giovanni poem... I'd have to say "Balances". When you read it slow and digest every line the whole thing is deep. But its the last stanza that hits this one out of the park for me.

    By the way, I received my book from the contest as well (Ace of Hearts by Jean Holloway). Thanks again!! I'll let you know what I think once I'm done reading.

    Can't wait to hear what else Ms. Giovanni has to share!

    @Sidne - tongue rolled? Never heard that before, gonna have to start using it.

  11. Fantastic, Lena!! I really want to read what she says about President Obama.

  12. Great post and interview Lena! I hadn't heard of Ms. Giovanni before this. I'm really looking forward to the next post.

  13. Looking forward to seeing the rest of the interview. She was the poet who got me into poetry. I wrote a handful of cento poems using her poems on my blog.


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I am a writer, filmmaker, wife and a mom of five beautiful, intelligent, quirky kids. This blog is for writers, aspiring writers, filmmakers and movie lovers. Bringing you my favorite books, films and photos, as well as giveaways and updates on my journey. I'm currently in the process of producing my first short film from my collection of short stories titled, If I Had My Way. The first story to be filmed will be Tandarin Drive. My award winning book, If I Had My Way, is available now. You can purchase a copy at and You may contact me via email at:

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