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Nikki Giovanni: A Living Legend


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Nikki Giovanni

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Giovanni will speak at Point Loma Nazarene University’s Writer’s Symposium by the Sea on February 18.

Nikki Giovanni was a major voice of the Black Arts Movement of the late 1960s, and went on to become one of the most widely read American poets. She has published more than 35 books for adults and children, won seven NAACP Image Awards, was nominated for a Grammy and a National Book Award, and landed a spot as one of Oprah Winfrey’s 25 Living Legends—and that’s just an abbreviated résumé. We spoke with the prolific talent about poetry in a tech-driven world, today’s racial issues, and cooking fried fish for Shakespeare.

Public education has recently focused more strongly on science, technology, and math. San Diego itself is a huge biotech hub. Why is it important that students continue to learn and read poetry?

We still use narrative to explain and explore our ideas more than anything. All of us—students, professors, scientists, businessmen and women—still read and write no matter what our profession.

You have written about race your entire career. The past few years have brought race relations back to a prominent place in our national discourse. Has anything changed since you started writing about these issues in the 1960s?

So much has changed. Race is still an issue but in a very different way. I am so proud of my generation and the doors we opened, and I’m also proud that we have enough sense to allow the youngsters to follow their own leaders. We have to keep this train moving; each generation has its own share to do.

What unique role does a poet have in speaking about the big issues that divide us?

Poets have always had important roles to share in public life. Unlike politicians, we tell the truth.

What poets do you like to read?

Gwen Brooks, Margaret Walker, Langston Hughes (especially as Ashley Bryan has illustrated his poems), and I enjoy Toni Morrison and Edwidge Danticat who, while technically not poets, write so beautifully they keep the rest of us honest.

Which writers, from past or present, would you invite to a dinner party?

I have had the pleasure of having dinners with Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou. Toni is great because she likes fried porgies. I guess my choice would be Shakespeare, because I love the way he never flinched when writing. I would hope Will likes fried fish, but if not I’m sure we could settle on rack of lamb.

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