Nikki Giovanni


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Yolande Cornelia "Nikki" Giovanni Jr. (born June 7, 1943) is an American poet, writer, commentator, activist, and educator. One of the world's most well-known African-American poets, her work includes poetry anthologies, poetry recordings, and nonfiction essays and covers topics ranging from race and social issues to children's literature. She has won numerous awards, including the Langston Hughes Medal and the NAACP Image Award. 

She has been nominated for a Grammy Award for her poetry album, The Nikki Giovanni Poetry Collection. Additionally, she has been named one of Oprah Winfrey's 25 "Living Legends." Giovanni gained initial fame in the late 1960s as one of the foremost authors of the Black Arts Movement. Influenced by the Civil Rights Movement and Black Power Movement of the period, her early work provides a strong, militant African-American perspective, leading one writer to dub her the "Poet of the Black Revolution." 

During the 1970s, she began writing children's literature and co-founded a publishing company, NikTom Ltd, to provide an outlet for other African-American women writers. Over subsequent decades, her works discussed social issues, human relationships, and hip-hop. Poems such as "Knoxville, Tennessee" and "Nikki-Rosa" have been frequently re-published in anthologies and other collections.

Giovanni has received numerous awards and holds 27 honorary degrees from various colleges and universities. She has also been given the key to over two dozen cities. Giovanni has been honored with the NAACP Image Award seven times. One of her more unique honors was having a South American bat species, Micronycteris giovanniae, named after her in 2007.

Giovanni is proud of her Appalachian roots and works to change the way the world views Appalachians and Affrilachians. Giovanni has taught at Queens College, Rutgers, and Ohio State and was a University Distinguished Professor at Virginia Tech until September 1, 2022. Following the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007, she delivered a chant poem at a memorial for the shooting victims.

Yolande Cornelia "Nikki" Giovanni Jr. was born in Knoxville, Tennessee, to Yolande Cornelia Sr. and Jones "Gus" Giovanni. Soon after her birth, the family moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, where her parents worked at Glenview School. In 1948, the family moved to Wyoming, Ohio, and sometimes in those first three years, Giovanni's sister, Gary, began calling her "Nikki." In 1958, Giovanni moved to Knoxville, TN, to live with her grandparents and attend Austin High School.

In 1960, she began her studies at her grandfather's alma mater, Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, as an "Early Entrant," which meant that she could enroll in college without having finished high school first. She immediately clashed with the Dean of Women, Ann Cheatam, and was expelled after neglecting to obtain the required permission from the Dean to leave campus and travel home for Thanksgiving break. Giovanni moved back to Knoxville, where she worked at a Walgreens drug store and helped care for her nephew, Christopher. 

In 1964, Giovanni spoke with the new Dean of Women at Fisk University, Blanche McConnell Cowan ("Jackie"), who urged her to return to Fisk that fall. While at Fisk, Giovanni edited a student literary journal (titled Élan), reinstated the campus chapter of SNCC (Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee), and published an essay in Negro Digest on gender questions in the Movement. In 1967, she graduated with honors with a B.A. degree in history.

Soon after graduation, she suffered the loss of her grandmother, Louvenia Watson, and turned to writing to cope with her death. These poems would later be included in her collection Black Feelings, Black Talk. In 1968, Giovanni attended a semester at the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Work toward an MSW and then moved to New York City. She briefly attended Columbia University School of the Arts toward an MFA in poetry and privately published Black Feeling, Black Talk. 

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