Thursday, April 26, 2012

National Poetry Month— Nikki Giovanni 'Balances'

Nikki Giovanni was born in 1943 in Knoxville, Tennessee in a close knit family.  She was inspired by her grandmother, a natural story teller, to explore the use of words.  After growing up in a middle class Black suburb of Columbus, Ohio, she attended Fisk University in Nashville, one of the most prestigious of the historically Black colleges.

At Fisk not only did she find her voice as a poet and writer, but she was immersed in the Civil Rights movement and the growing militancy of emerging Black Power.  She served as editor of the campus literary magazine, participated in the Fisk Writers Workshop, and helped re-build the Fisk chapter of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).  After graduation in turbulent 1968 Giovanni went on to graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University in New York.

Still an undergraduate Giovanni published her first collection of poetry, Black Feeling, Black Talk in 1967 in response to the assignations of Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Medgar Evers, and Robert Kennedy.  A year later she followed up with Black Judgment, an exploration and appreciation of Black militancy.  The two books catapulted her into the front ranks of a new generation of poets and one who had appeal to wider audiences.  A third volume, Re: Creation published in 1970 cemented her place as a leading young black voice.  She was soon embarked on popular readings, often incorporating black music.

Giovanni took a teaching position at Rutgers University and gave birth to her son Thomas.  She worked to help other Black writers find outlets through NikTom, Ltd., a publishing cooperative which published Gwendolyn Brooks, Margaret Walker, Carolyn Rodgers, and Mari Evans.

As Giovnni matured as a poet and woman her interests broadened.  She continued to write in clear, accessible language about her life and experiences, but later work was not as explicitly political as her early efforts.

She also began writing for children and young people beginning with Spin a Soft Black Song in 1971 and continuing through her Caldecott Medal winning Rosa in 2005.

Giovanni was teaching at Virginia Tech in 2007 when the tragic shooting occurred there.  She composed a memorial chant that was recited at the campus memorial service the next day.

She has written dozens of books, including two compilations, and non-fiction work.  Giovanni is among the most honored of contemporary poets having received the NAACP Image Award, the Langston Hughes Award for Distinguished Contributions to Arts and Letters, the Rosa Parks Women of Courage Award, and over twenty honorary degrees from colleges and universities around the country.


in life
one is always

like we juggle our mothers
against our fathers

or one teacher
against another
(only to balance our grade average)

3 grains of salt
to one ounce truth

our sweet black essence
or the funky honkies down the street

and lately i’ve begun wondering
if you're trying to tell me something

we used to talk all night
and do things alone together

and i’ve begun

(as a reaction to a feeling)
to balance
the pleasure of loneliness
against the pain
of loving you

—Nikki  Giovanni

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