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Anthony Lake and Martha Crenshaw to Speak at Mount Holyoke February 15 on the "War on Terrorism"

Poet Nikki Giovanni to Deliver Black History Month Keynote Lecture February 14

Environmentalist and Author Bill McKibben to Speak at Mount Holyoke February 11

Browne Wins Institute on Teaching and Mentoring Award

Report Details Postgraduate Educational and Career Paths of Young Alumnae

MHC Student Rocks!

New Staff, New Hours at CDC

January Terms to Remember: Interns Report

Film Studies Scholar Robin Blaetz: Exploring the Language of Imagery

Glass Panels Are Capstone to Renovation of Pratt Hall

New Web Site to Assist Victims of Sexual Violence

Spinning Yarns with Pete Seeger

Recounting a Journey of Courage

Front-Page News

This Week at MHC

Nota Bene


Mount Holyoke College News and Events Vista The College Street Journal Archives

February 8, 2002

Poet Nikki Giovanni to Deliver Black History Month Keynote Lecture February 14

The magazine Essence has described her as "one of the most searing voices of the 1960s Black Power Movement." Her poetry has been described as intimate, edgy, and unapologetic, and she has long been known as the "princess of black poetry." Twenty years before the appearance of rap music, she made innovative recordings of her poems backed by some of the nation's most well-known gospel choirs. Writer Gloria Naylor has called her "one of our national treasures." Publications as diverse as Mademoiselle, Ladies' Home Journal, and Ebony have named her Woman of the Year. She is renowned poet, author, and activist Nikki Giovanni, this year's keynote speaker for MHC's celebration of Black History Month.

Giovanni, University Distinguished Professor of English at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, will deliver the address Thursday, February 14, at 7:30 pm, in the art building's Gamble Auditorium. The author of more than fourteen volumes of poetry, her honors include the NAACP Image Award for Literature (1998), the Langston Hughes Award for Distinguished Contributions to Arts and Letters (1996), and numerous honorary degrees. "The essence of blackness" is the theme of Black History Month this year.

About Nikki Giovanni

Born Yolande Cornelia Giovanni Jr., in Knoxville, Tennessee, in 1943, Giovanni was raised in Ohio. In 1960, she entered Nashville's Fisk University, where she worked with the school's Writer's Workshop, edited the literary magazine, and helped reinstate Fisk's chapter of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Connections between
literature and politics would be a focus of work for decades to come.

By the time Giovanni received her bachelor's degree (in history, with honors) in 1967, she was "firmly committed to the Civil Rights Movement and the concept of black power," according to the Encyclopedia Britannica Guide to Black History. That year, she became actively involved in the Black Arts movement, a loose coalition of African American intellectuals who wrote politically and artistically radical poems aimed at raising awareness of black rights and promoting the struggle for racial equality. After receiving her undergraduate degree, Giovanni organized the Black Arts Festival in Cincinnati and then entered graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania. Her first three collections of poems, Black Feeling (1967), Black Talk (1968), and Black Judgement (1968) "secured [Giovanni's] reputation as one of the most accessible of the young writers whose poems encouraged black solidarity and revolution, and Giovanni soon became the most prominent woman writer of the Black Arts movement," wrote Lisa Clayton Robinson. She also became well known for her poetry readings, and Truth Is on Its Way, one of her recordings of her poetry set to music, became a bestseller in 1971. That year, she published Gemini: An Extended Autobiographical Statement on My First Twenty-Five Years at Being a Black Poet, a collection of autobiographical essays.

Beginning in the early 1970s, Giovanni's experiences as a single mother also influenced her poetry, and themes surrounding loneliness, unfulfilled hopes, and family issues infused her work, which became less political and more personal. Spin a Soft Black Song (1971), Ego-Tripping (1973), and Vacation Time (1980) are collections of poems that she wrote for children. In collections she wrote for adults during these years, such as My House (1972), The Women and the Men (1972), and Cotton Candy on a Rainy Day (1978), the poet focused on relationships between black men and black women, family connections, and issues of identity and purpose. Giovanni returned to political concerns in Those Who Ride the Night Winds (1983), with dedications to black American heroes and heroines. Her tributes also extended as well to nonblacks, notably John Lennon, Billie Jean King, and Robert Kennedy. In the 1980s and 1990s, Giovanni published two additional books of essays, which revolve around personal and social issues.
Her most recent works include Blues For All the Changes: New Poems (William Morrow & Company, 1999), Love Poems (1997), and The Selected Poems of Nikki Giovanni (1996).

For other Black History Month events, see CSJ Happenings. Highlights include a February 11 screening of Ethnic Notions, Marlon Riggs's documentary film about racist stereotypes in American history, and a discussion of the film with religion professor John T. Grayson; a variety show set for February 15; a panel discussion that addresses the purpose of cultural houses on campus that will be held February 19; and a discussion of black women and health set for February 25. Black History Month is cosponsored by the Association of Pan African Unity, the offices of the president, dean of the College, dean of students, and student programs.

The counter is 11,636

Ego Tripping
(there may be a reason why)

I was born in the congo
I walked to the fertile crescent and built
       the sphinx
I designed a pyramid so tough that a star
        that only glows every one hundred years falls
        into the center giving divine perfect light
I am bad

I sat on the throne
        drinking nectar with allah
I got hot and sent an ice age to europe
        to cool my thirst
My oldest daughter is nefertiti
        the tears from my birth pains
        created the nile
I am a beautiful woman

I gazed on the forest and burned
        out the sahara desert
        with a packet of goat’s meat
and a change of clothes
I crossed it in two hours
I am a gazelle so swift
         so swift you can’t catch me

         For a birthday present when he was three
I gave my son hannibal an elephant
         He gave me rome for mother’s day
My strength flows ever on

My son noah built new/ark and
I stood proudly at the helm
         as we sailed on a soft summer day
I turned myself into myself and was
         men intone my loving name
         All praises All praises
I am the one who would save

I sowed diamonds in my backyard
My bowels deliver uranium
         the filings from my fingernails are
         semi-precious jewels
         On a trip north
I caught a cold and blew
My nose giving oil to the arab world
I am so hip even my errors are correct
I sailed west to reach east and had to round off
          the earth as I went
          The hair from my head thinned and gold was laid
          across three continents

I am so perfect so divine so ethereal so surreal
I cannot be comprehended
          except by my permission

I mean … I … can fly
          like a bird in the sky…

—Nikki Giovanni


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