Nikki Giovanni - Biography

Nikki Giovanni

Nikki Giovanni – They used to call her Yolande Cornelia Giovanni, but “Nikki” just got the better part of her. To this date, the start studded woman is known as a writer, poet, educator, an able activist and a great commentator in favor of the civil rights. So how did she start all this? How did Nikki Giovanni become the woman that we know today on such a massive level? This is her biography, read on and you might pick up a thing or two about her long life.

Nikki Giovanni was born on the 7th of June – 1943, in Knoxville – Tennessee. She was born to Yolande Cornelia and Jones “Gus” Giovanni, and grew up in Lincoln Heights. In those days, Lincoln Heights used to be a suburb; where all the well-off folks would live and enjoy life lavishly. To put it simply, Lincoln Heights was one of the main attractions in Cincinnati – Ohio.

Ms. Giovanni properly started her education from Fisk University in Nashville – Tennessee. Prior to that, she dabbled in different schools and colleges but Fisk played an important part in honing her academic capabilities. By 1967, she was done with her B.A. in History degree and went further with higher qualification. She got admitted to the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia, and stayed there briefly for a good 3 years period.

By 1969, she had all her academic credentials straightened up. She took a job offer from the Rutgers University officials, in order to teach students a good thing or two about different subjects of vast interest. She did, however, receive recognition and honorary degrees from several institutes every once in a while, but none of them counts as an “actual” degree. But still, an honorary degree or a posthumous honor is a great way to make someone stand tall among others.

During the same year (1969), Nikki Giovanni also gave birth to a son, her only son. She named him Thomas Watson Giovanni and he was born on August 31. The question of her marriage is still pending because she never got married. Yes, it’s true that Thomas Giovanni doesn’t have a father and that he was basically born out of wedlock. The subject of marriage has sometimes brought a lot of criticism to Nikki. People condemn her for having a baby out of wedlock because of her perceptions about marriage.

In her own opinion, she thinks that marriage, as an institute, is not good enough for women. At the age of 25, she said that she “wanted to have a baby when she could afford to have one”. Simple as that – Marriage is inhospitable to women and a lady can take care of herself and her baby, just the way she pleases.

Ms. Giovanni’s life changed after the birth of her son. She had to re organize her daily work rituals and at several occasions, she expressed immense love for Thomas Watson Giovanni. She said that she would sacrifice her own life for him. She had always put his priorities in front of all other things. The subject of motherhood and her relationship with Thomas, never goes off without her memorable comment; “I just can't imagine living without him. But I can live without the revolution, without world socialism, women's liberty...I have a child. My responsibilities have changed.”

On Poetry, Writing and Literature:

Of all the things in her life, Nikki Giovanni will always be remembered and hailed for her contributions to the literary world. She’s and enigmatic woman; a visage of perfect stanza, prose, and mastery over the English language. She showed off her skills through poetry in most areas of literature. If her poetry is to be stacked up in a sequence, it’d depict the insightful and unique experiences that she went through, in her whole life. Her poems do change with the passage of time.

For instance, when Giovanni was in her freshman years, she’d write mostly about love and general issues. Later on, when she grew up to be a woman, she was writing about racism and civil rights. And finally, the subject of motherhood was never left unscathed in the poetic work of art. Another reason for her poetry to be loved by millions of people out there is because she never uses a formal tone. Yes, at times she does, but her writing style is mainly oscillating between an upbeat-Esque sort of air.

While she was at Fisk University, the black renaissance was coming about. Black people were finding new ways to express themselves and for that very purpose, they’d take part in the university Writers Workshop. Fisk University had its official magazine printed on a frequent basis, and Nikki Giovanni was an important part of it.

A major part of her publications was written to condemn the assassinations of Sir. Martin Luther King Jr., President J.F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Medgar Evers and Malcolm X. Most of her books had the word “Black” in common.

Black Feeling, Black Talk (1967)
Black Judgment (1968)

There were other titles too and they all talked about the calamities of racism. She was the new African American voice that was roaring on top of the media and literature, to help the society in getting rid of racial slurs. When she took over “Birdland”, famous Jazz spot in New York City, the audience was mesmerized by her public reading skills. The entire hall was jam packed and they all hailed Nikki for her prolific skills in poetry and writing.

But then again, “Birdland” wasn’t the only place where people praised Giovanni. We all remember her closing statement that she gave regarding the Virginia Tech Massacre. For those of you who missed her reading, they should know that the woman openly sympathized with the deceased students’ families. The shooting was carried out by a student named Seung Hui Cho in 2007. He used to be Giovanni’s student in poetry class, and was always described as a mean person.

On April 17 – 2007, during the Virginia Tech Convocation ceremony, Nikki Giovanni took the stage for a brief moment to mourn the loss of the dead students. She said, “We know we did nothing to deserve it. But neither does a child in Africa dying of AIDS. Neither do the invisible children walking the night awake to avoid being captured by a rogue army. Neither does the baby elephant watching his community being devastated for ivory. Neither does the Mexican child looking for fresh water...We are Virginia Tech...We will prevail.”

As much as adults liked her poetry, kids also had a knack for what Nikki had in store for them. She didn’t leave the young audience unattended and briefly wrote poems from them in the 70s. Soft Black Song, Ego Tripping and various other titles for youngsters were a great source of inspiration to those who wanted to be just like her. For children, her poetry has always maintained a tinge of unrhymed incantations of images of childhood and innocence.

In 1995, Nikki was diagnosed with lung cancer. She used to smoke but smoking didn’t have a lot to do with her condition. Most of the credit for her ailment goes to a long family history of lung cancer. Her mother and sister; both died of the same disease, which the Giovanni are still bearing. Followed by a lung removal surgery in the Jewish Hospital – Cincinnati, she never touched that pack of cigarettes again.

Her most recent work is titled “Bicycles – Love Poems”. It was published in 2009 and to this date, Nikki is still continuing to read, write, speak and teach. Take a look at her work in the field of poetry and authorship:

Black Feeling – Black Talk (1967)
Black Judgment (1968)
Re: Creation (1970)
My House (1972)
The Women and Men (1975)
Cotton Candy on a Rainy Day (1978)
Co- Authored Books:
A Dialogue with James Baldwin (1973)
Rosa with Bryan Collier (2005)
Harlem Stomp!: A Cultural History of the Harlem Renaissance with Laban Carrick (2009)