Kuzma, Greg. "Dana Gioia and the Poetry of Money." Northwest Review 26.3 (1988): 111-121. Murphy, Bruce F "Music and Lyrics." Poetry 179.5 (February
2002): 283-295. Walzer, Kevin. "Dana Gioia and Expansive Poetry." Italian Americana 16.1 (winter 1998): 24-40.
GIOVANNI, NIKKI (1943- ) The term popular poet is often used to describe Nikki Giovanni. Some employ this term to refer to her positive reception by large, diverse audiences; others position her a notch below a first guard of "great" poets. Regardless of the value they attach to Giovanni's popularity, however, critics and reviewers agree that Giovanni is one of the most widely read and appreciated contemporary American poets. One of the first African-American poets of her generation to be published by a large mainstream publisher, Giovanni entered the canon of American poetry early in her career. Her candid voice and her socially conscious persona continue to inspire black female poets as well as upcoming writers in general.
Giovanni was born Yolande Cornelia, Jr., on June 7, 1943, in Knoxville, Tennessee. A 1967 honors graduate of Fisk University, Giovanni also attended the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University. Before taking a permanent professorial position at virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, she held other academic appointments and worked as a full-time writer/publisher. Giovanni is the recipient of more than 30 honors and awards, including Ford Foundation and National Endowment for the Arts grants (1967; 1968), a National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) nomination for Woman of the Year (1989), the Langston HUGHES Award (1996), and honorary doctorates from—among others—Smith College (1975) and Indiana University (1991).
Giovanni began her career during the BLACK ARTS movement, and while she did not allow her art to be completely absorbed by it, Giovanni's early writing clearly reflects the central issues that characterized the movement. It is her refusal to give up individuality in favor of a streamlined common cause, however, which has remained a more prominent marker of her work over the years. An excellent example of an artist/ activist who has honed rather than outgrown the revolutionary voice, Giovanni continues to be an inspiration for those dedicated to using poetry as a means of social change.
From early battle calls, such as "The True Import of the Present Dialogue, Black vs. Negro"—the 1968 poem that sports the often-cited lines "Nigger / Can you kill"—or her signature poem "Nikki-Rosa" (1968) to more recent statements, such as "I couldn't see how I could grow if I thought of myself as anything other than Nikki" (Fowler 136), Giovanni foregrounds the power of self-definition. "[A]nd if this seems / like somewhat of a tentative poem," she remarks in "Categories" (1972), "it's probably / because I just realized that / I'm bored with categories"; in Cotton Candy (1978), she adds, "I am tired of being boxed."
conversational, playful, mischievous, perhaps also careless or in need of fine-tuning, Giovanni's poetry addresses race, gender, love, sex and sexuality, motherhood, childhood, personhood, even popularity and prominence. And "Nikki Giovanni"—whether as poetic personality or engaged artist/activist—continues to draw considerable audiences nationwide.
Was this article helpful?