The Poetry of Giovanni

Essay by jav2009A+, August 2009

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Born Yolande Cornelia Giovanni on June 7, 1943, in Knoxville, Tennessee, Nikki Giovanni grew up in the suburbs of Cincinnati. At the age of sixteen, she entered Fisk University; she was graduated magna cum laude with a degree in history in 1967. Her political involvement at the university in the early 1960's, combined with her increasing interest in writing, led to her obtaining a Ford Foundation grant in 1967 that aided her in the publication of her first book of poetry, Black Feeling, Black Talk. She quickly gained popularity for her first collection and followed in the same year with the publication of Black Judgement. The unifying themes of the work are the black struggle and the role she sees for herself as both a participant in and a witness to the historic events of the Civil Rights movement.

Giving a glimpse into the childhood of the poet is the poem "Nikki-Rosa," which highlights a happy childhood: "everybody is together and you/ and your sister have happy birthdays and very good/ Christmases."

In addition to writing about her sister, Gary, in many of her works, Giovanni describes her close relationship with her mother, Yolande, her father, Gus, and her maternal grandparents, John and Louvenia Brown. Later, with the birth of her son, Tommy, in 1969, Giovanni began writing children's poetry, including Spin a Soft Black Song: Poems for Children, Ego-Tripping and Other Poems for Young People, and Vacation Time: Poems for Children. In addition to her strong pride in herself as an African American came the pride of a mother; she tried to transmit her values of black aestheticism to children through her poetry, as in the following: "i wish i were/ a shadow/ oh wow! when they put/ the light on/ me i'd grow/ longer and taller and/...