Plain spoken and impassioned, poet Nikki Giovanni's body of work is a testament to the power of words to fulfill and inspire.
Born in 1943, Giovanni grew up in the suburbs of Cincinnati, Ohio, surrounded by a tightly knit family that figures heavily in her work. In her widely anthologized 1968 poem "Nikki-Rosa," she noted of her childhood, "all the while I was quite happy."
Giovanni attended Fisk University in Nashville, where she was swept up in a renaissance of black artistic expression. In 1967, she graduated with a degree in history. She published her first book of poems, "Black Feeling, Black Talk," in 1968. Later that year, she published a second book of poetry, "Black Judgment." The two books, with their strong, even militant sense of African American identity, garnered Giovanni a wide audience early.
"So let us work / for our day of Presence / When Stokely is in / The Black House / And all will be right with / Our World," Giovanni concluded one early poem from "Black Feeling."
Gradually, though, the ardent political focus of Giovanni's early work gave way to a softer, more personal style, especially after the birth of her son, Thomas, in 1969. She has published more than 15 books of poetry, numerous books for children and an autobiography, "Gemini," that was a finalist for the National Book Award.
In addition to her writing, audiences know Giovanni as a spoken-word performer; she earn a 2004 Grammy nomination for her album, "The Nikki Giovanni Poetry Collection." She embraces the link between poetry, spoken-word and hip-hop and collaborated with hip-hop group Blackalicious. Since 1987, Giovanni has served as a distinguished professor of English at Virginia Tech.
Giovanni speaks at 7 p.m. March 23 at Jackson State University in honor of the JSU Student Government Association's "Women's Emphasis Week." Her speech in the Rose Embly McCoy Auditorium at 1400 Lynch St., is free and open to the public.