Nikki Giovanni or Yolande Cornelia “Nikki” Giovanni Jr. was born on the 7th of June in 1943 in Knoxville, Tennessee. She’s a brilliant daughter of Yolanda Cornelia Sr. and Jones Giovanni. The family settled in Cincinnati shortly after she was born, where her parents served in a school, and later in 1948, they moved to Wyoming. She shared warm relations with her sister, who used to call her “Nikki”. At fourteen, she moved to Knoxville to stay with her grandmother, where she gained a profound insight into African American culture and heritage. This, she later reflected in her literary pieces.
Nikki Giovanni started her formal education in 1958 when she went to stay with her grandparents. There, she attended Austin High School, and after two years, she started attending grandfather’s alma mater, Fisk University. Unfortunately, she clashed with the dean of the university and was expelled from the department. However, she completed her bachelor’s by 1967. In the same year, she firmly committed to the concept of African-American power and the Civil Rights Movement. Also, during her stay at university, she edited a student literary general and published her first essay in Negro Digest, addressing some questions related to gender.
Soon after graduation, her grandmother’s death gave her a rude shock about the transience of life. To cope up with the grave loss, she turned toward writing and produced some early literary pieces. She briefly attended the University of Pennsylvania after that and then moved to New York, where she attended Colombia University and published her poem, “Black Feelings, Black Talk” privately.
Nikki Giovanni is one of the most celebrated poets of America and is leading a successful life. She has sold thousands of copies and has inspired many people through her writings. She also played a pivotal role in the Civil Rights Movement. Nikki was inspired by the civil rights activist, including Malcolm X., Martin Luther King Jr. Her literary works are based on African-American history, her own life, and her observation about the misconception of history and culture of the African-American race. Her devotion to fighting for what she believed right has made her a literary icon and won her great achievements for her, including Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. Award in 2009, NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work three times in a row from 2009 to 2011.
Some Important Facts of Her Life
- Her masterpiece, Black Feeling, Black Talk, hit the shelves to the extent that in the first year, its ten thousand copies were sold.
- Besides adult writing, she produced works for children, and his children’s book Rosa won Coretta Scott King Award and Caldecott Medal.
- She holds twenty honorary degrees from colleges and universities around the country.
Nikki Giovanni successfully has been pursuing two careers simultaneously in her life. She is an outstanding writer and an influential professor, too. She started expressing her ideas in her writings when she was a university student. Her interest in writing and especially in African culture, emerged in her childhood as she herself says that she came from a long line of storytellers.
Therefore, she started defending her race at a very young age. She played a positive role in the literary and cultural renaissance that emerged during her stay at the university, where she worked on a project that explored and delineated the possibilities of black identity. Inspired by the civil rights movement, her interest in politics and spiritual awareness grew stronger, which she is seen in her work, “Black Feeling, Black Talk” and “Black Judgment,” published in 1968.
These successful attempts followed by another work, “Creation” successfully establishing her as a new and forceful voice in African American culture. Soon after these successful publications, she made television appearances. These talks were later published as conversations with James Baldwin and Margret Walker. Besides writing, she was a faculty member of Virginia Tech, where she served as a University Distinguished Professor. Her other notable works include Gemini: An Extended Autobiographical Statement.
Nikki’s literary work as a poet, writer, and public speaker, brought imaginative ideas to the readers and the literary world. Her early works primarily focused on the things she experienced, saw, and knew about the world. Nikki has always expressed her sentiments about the oppression and rights of the black community. In her first three volumes, she answered a need for inspiration, solidarity, and anger. In “Nikki-Rosa”, she explored her childhood in a close-knit home. Marked with the blend of memories, reflection, and even recipes, she came up with Chasing Utopia: A Hybrid in 2013. Moreover, social issues clubbed with issues of race and gender stand at the center of her literary struggle.
Some Important Works of Nikki Giovanni
- Best Poems: Some of her famous poems include “Nikki-Rosa”, “I Wrote a Good Omelet”, “And I Have You”, “You Came, Too”, “Dreams”, “A Poem of Friendship” and “Ego Tripping.”
- Other Works: Besides poetry, she tried her hands on children literature and other works including Spin a Soft Black Song, Black Ink: Literary Legends on the Peril, Power, and Pleasure of Reading and Writing and Sacred Cows … and Other Edibles.
Nikki Giovanni’s Impact on Literature
Nikki Giovanni is one of the greatest writers of this age. Her critical opinions, love for African-American culture, her ethnicity, and her works have left deep imprints on them as well as international literature. Her distinctive writing approach and unique way of expression made her stand out among the best poets and writers. Her thoughtful ideas influenced many great poets and writers of the world and continue to make an impact on the new black and other writers from the Third World countries. She successfully documented her ideas and feelings in his writings that emerging writers are inspired to follow.
- “and I really hope no white person ever has cause
to write about me because they never understand.” (Nikki-Rosa)
- “And you will understand all too soon
That you, my children of battle, are your heroes” (The Collected Poetry, 1968-1998)
- I mean…I…can fly
like a bird in the sky…” (Ego Tripping)