A constellation of experiences and circumstances shape the inner core of one’s being. Yolande Cornelia Giovanni. Jr., whose sister would later dub her “Nikki,” was impacted by storytelling, especially by her grandmother. “Nikki-Rosa” is a poem reflecting on her having grown up in a supportive, protective family. Nikki has always remained quite close to her family. She has a son, Thomas, her only child.
In the 1940s, Nikki’s family like so many other African American families moved from the Deep South and headed north of the Mason-Dixon Line seeking a better life. Cincinnati, Ohio was not free from racism but it was different from that practiced in Tennessee. Following in her grandfather’s footsteps, Nikki graduated from Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. She later studied at the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University.
In 1968, Nikki Giovanni published Black Feeling Black Talk. She boldly examined the place of race, the dimensions of power and the complexities of relationships. There were conversations with notables like James Baldwin. Her linguistic agility and superb vocal delivery spoke to the intellectual as well as the minimally educated. Her 1970 book, Re: Creation showcased her capacity to so adeptly use language to achieve purpose. The assassinations of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Medgar Evers jolted Nikki. She studied, spoke and wrote about race and gender inequities. She encouraged other African American women writers such as Gwendolyn Brooks, Margaret Walker, Mari Evans and others to find their distinctive voices.
In 1994, Nikki published Racism 101. She responded to the thinking of such brilliant minds as those of Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Spike Lee and Toni Morrison. In 1996, Shimmy Shimmy Shimmy Like My Sister Kate, a collection of African American writing from the Harlem Renaissance appeared.
The broadness of her literary scope becomes evident as one reads The Selected Poems of Nikki Giovanni, 1968-1995; Blues: For All the Changes;Quilting the Black-Eyed Pea: Poems and Not Quite Poems;Bicycles: Love Poems; ChasingUtopia: A Hybrid; A Good Cry: What We Learn From Tears and Laughter and Make Me Rain. Themes of her children’s books vary widely as shown in I Am Loved, The Sun Is So Quiet and Rosa.
Nikki Giovanni has taught at Virginia Tech since 1987, and in 2005, Oprah Winfrey selected her as one of “25 Living Legends.” Nikki Giovanni’s creative genius has led to her winning NAACP Image Awards, the Carl Sandburg Literary Award, the Langston Hughes Award for Distinguished Contributions to the Arts and Letters and the first Rosa Parks Woman of Courage Award.