06/07/01
Nikki Giovanni
    by John Cech

That's Nikki Giovanii reading part of her lyric, mythic poem, "Ego-Tripping." Nikki Giovanni was born today, in 1943. She has been a vital voice in contemporary American poetry , and in the Black Arts and Civil Rights movements since her first books, Black Feeling, Black Talk and Black Judgement appeared in the late 1960s. By 1970, now the mother of a young son, Thomas, Ms. Giovanni began writing what would become best-selling books of poetry for young people like Spin a Soft Black Song and Ego-Tripping and other Poems for Young Readers. She did this decades before children's book publishers had begun to embrace the idea of "multi-culturalism" as a publishing standard. She launched her venture into writing for young people in response to a virtual vacuum of works for or about African American children and their experience, at a time when the painful and continuing struggle for racial equality in this country had only begun to yield its first fruits. Ms. Giovanni was a passionate figure in that struggle, an outspoken public intellectucal and activist, a tireless commentator on those events, and a prolific creative presence who put her observations into the practice of her art.

Ms. Giovanni has received numerous honorary degrees and awards, has read her poetry around the country and the world, and is currently a distinguished professor at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia, where you can find out more about her and her current activities on her friendly web site, which includes a drawing by Chris Raschka from the remarkable picture book that Raschka and Ms. Giovanni did together called The Genie in the Jar based on a poem that Ms. Giovanni dedicated to the singer Nina Simone, and it is about how life is woven into a dance. The acclaimed novelist Virginia Hamilton has written about Ms. Giovanni's work: "In her vivid words, young people . . . weep, their hearts are touched. They laugh, they are loved and made strong. They are reborn. Good that there is Giovanni here for them; best that she be among us all, writing the images and sounding the meter and verse of a better world."

Copyright 2001 by John Cech

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Wednesday, 04-Sep-2002 22:24:13 EDT


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