|Birth Day:||June 7, 1943|
|Birth Place:||Knoxville, United States|
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She attended Fisk University, the University of Pennsylvania, and Columbia University.
Yolande Cornelia "Nikki" Giovanni Jr. was born in Knoxville, Tennessee, to Yolande Cornelia Sr. and Jones "Gus" Giovanni. Soon after her birth, the family moved to Cincinnati, Ohio where her parents worked at Glenview School. In 1948, the family moved to Wyoming, and sometime in those first three years, Giovanni's sister, Gary, began calling her "Nikki." In 1958, Giovanni moved to Knoxville, TN to live with her grandparents and attend Austin High School. In 1960, she began her studies at her grandfather's alma mater, Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, as an "Early Entrant", which meant that she could enroll in college without having finished high school first. She immediately clashed with the Dean of Women, Ann Cheatam, and was expelled after neglecting to obtain the required permission from the Dean to leave campus and travel home for Thanksgiving break. Giovanni moved back to Knoxville, where she worked at a Walgreens drug store and helped care for her nephew, Christopher. In 1964, Giovanni spoke with the new Dean of Women at Fisk University, Blanche McConnell Cowan ("Jackie"), who urged her to return to Fisk that fall. While at Fisk, Giovanni edited a student literary journal (titled Èlan), reinstated the campus chapter of SNCC (Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee), and published an essay in Negro Digest on gender questions in the Movement. In 1967, she graduated with honors with a B.A. degree in history.
Soon after graduation, she suffered the loss of her grandmother, Louvenia Watson, and turned to writing to cope with her death. These poems would later be included in her collection Black Feelings, Black Talk. In 1968, Giovanni attended a semester at University of Pennsylvania and then moved to New York City. She briefly attended Columbia University and privately published Black Feeling, Black Talk. In 1969, Giovanni began teaching at Livingston College of Rutgers University. She was an active member of the Black Arts Movement beginning in the late 1960s. In 1969, she gave birth to Thomas Watson Giovanni, her only child. In 1970, she began making regular appearances on the television program Soul!, an entertainment/variety/talk show that promoted black art and culture and allowed political expression. Soul! hosted important guests such as Muhammad Ali, James Baldwin, Jesse Jackson, Harry Belafonte, Sidney Poitier, Gladys Knight, Miriam Makeba, and Stevie Wonder. (In addition to being a "regular" on the show, Giovanni for several years helped design and produce episodes.) She published multiple poetry anthologies, children's books, and released spoken word albums from 1973 to 1987.
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'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.
Since 1987, she has taught writing and literature at Virginia Tech, where she is a University Distinguished Professor. She has received the NAACP Image Award several times, received 20 honorary doctorates and various other awards, including the Rosa Parks and the Langston Hughes Award for Distinguished Contributions to Arts and Letters. She also holds the key to several different cities, including Dallas, Miami, New York City, and Los Angeles. She is a member of the Order of the Eastern Star (PHA), she has received the Life Membership and Scroll from the National Council of Negro Women, and is an Honorary Member of Delta Sigma Theta sorority.
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 was diagnosed with lung cancer in the early 1990s and underwent numerous surgeries. Her book Blues: For All the Changes: New Poems, published in 1999, contains poems about nature and her battle with cancer. In 2002, Giovanni spoke in front of NASA about the need for African Americans to pursue space travel, and later published Quilting the Black-Eyed Pea: Poems and Not Quite Poems, which dealt with similar themes.
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.
Seung-Hui Cho, the mass murderer who killed 32 people in the Virginia Tech shooting on April 16, 2007, was a student in one of Giovanni's poetry classes. Describing him as "mean" and "menacing", she approached the department chair to have Cho taken out of her class, and said she was willing to resign rather than continue teaching him. After the massacre, Giovanni stated that, upon hearing of the shooting, she immediately suspected that Cho might be the shooter.
Giovanni was asked by Virginia Tech president Charles Steger to give a convocation speech at the April 17 memorial service for the shooting victims (she was asked by Steger at 5:00 pm on the day of the shootings, giving her less than 24 hours to prepare the speech). She expressed that she usually feels very comfortable delivering speeches, but worried that her emotion would get the best of her. On April 17, 2007, at the Virginia Tech Convocation commemorating the April 16 massacre, Giovanni closed the ceremony with a chant poem, intoning:
Giovanni herself takes great pride in being a "Black American, a daughter, mother, and a Professor of English". (29) 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. (29)
Giovanni's Big-Eared Bat Micronycteris giovanniae was named in her honor in 2007. The bat is found in western Ecuador and the naming was given "in recognition of her poetry and writings".
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.
She has also been honored for her life and career by the HistoryMakers, along with being the first person to receive the Rosa L. Parks Women of Courage Award. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Honor from Dillard University in 2010. In 2015, Giovanni was named one of the Library of Virginia's "Virginia Women in History" for her contributions to poetry, education, and society.
Giovani 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 Giovani 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 whom have passed away, including close friend Maya Angelou who died in 2014. Giovani 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.”
Currently, Nikki Giovanni is 78 years, 4 months and 19 days old. Nikki Giovanni will celebrate 79th birthday on a Tuesday 7th of June 2022.
Find out about Nikki Giovanni birthday activities in timeline view here.