Yolande Cornelia “Nikki” Giovanni is not just one of the world’s greatest poets, with a legacy of profound and funky work, but a scholar with deep community interests and focuses. As a Distinguished Professor of English at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg VA since 1987, she trains future leaders in the literature of the mother tongue. As the author of over 30 books, she shares the beauty of poetic language with readers far and wide, having done so for over four decades. The above photo is drawn from the session for her first volume of work, Black Feeling, Black Talk, published in 1968, the year she turned twenty-five.

nikki_giovanni_largeUnlike many poets, however, Giovanni, right, has long had an interest in reaching children. Her first book of verse for them, Spin a Soft Black Song, was published a mere three years after her first volume, in 1971, two short years after giving birth to her only child, Thomas Watson Giovanni.

Her latest work, which she edited, continues her aim of making poetry come alive for young listeners and readers, albeit in a contemporary way. Hip-Hop Speaks to Children: A Celebration of Poetry with a Beat presents compositions by rap artists like A Tribe Called Quest, Queen Latifah, the Sugarhill Gang, and Stetsasonic along with classics by Claude McKay, Sterling Brown, Maya Angelou, and, of course, Nikki Giovanni. Children can read along in the profusely illustrated text while an accompanying CD presents most of the pieces in audio form, some of them read by the original poet. For me, the highlight had to be hearing Langston Hughes, performing his own poems, like “Dream Boogie” and “The Negro Speaks of Rivers.”

micronycteris-megalotisNikki Giovanni has had a long and varied career, appropriately honored with accolades from admirers as diverse as TV host Oprah Winfrey, whose hailed her as one of twenty-five “Living Legends”; to singer Teena Marie, who name-checked Giovanni on her 1981 hit, “Square Biz”; to biologist Robert Baker who, in 2004—no joke—named a West Ecuadoran bat he discovered, three years earlier, after her. Micronycteris giovanniae, which means meaning “Giovanni’s small night flyer,”looks much like the cuddly fellow above. “I enjoy reading her poetry and I come from the Deep South, so I really can appreciate what she has done for race relations and equality,” the professor explains.

Nikki Giovanni is the guest today on my WBAI-NY / 99.5 FM radio show, NONFICTION, this afternoon, Friday, July 31st, at 2 pm ET.

You can hear her ideas by tuning in at 2 pm. If you’re outside of the New York tri-state, check out our stream on the web. If you miss the live show, dig into our archives for up to 90 days after broadcast.


1 comment so far ↓

#1 madi on 03.25.11 at 11:48 pm

im soo amazed i just read a book about her she is truly amazing she is a year younger than my dad and her son is four years younger than my brother my dad is 68 and she will be 68 on june,7 and my brother is 48 so that would make her son 44

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