Black History 365, National Poetry Month edition: Nikki Giovanni

Since there are so many facets of the history that people of African descent have made in this country, I’ve decided to continue my “Black History 365″ series from my poetry blog here on my AfrocentriqueAZ blog. In honor of National Poetry Month, I’ll be posting a new Black poet every day this month. Every Wednesday for the months after that I will post other Black history figures (I’ll go back to my “first Black” series). 

Today’s poet is Nikki Giovanni (video at the end of the post)

Nikki Giovanni

Nikki Giovanni

 

From Famous Poets and Poems and Wikipedia:

Yolande Cornelia “Nikki” Giovanni Jr. (born June 7, 1943) is an American writer, commentator, activist, and educator. She is currently a distinguished professor of English at Virginia Tech.

Nikki Giovanni was born in Knoxville, Tennessee, to Yolande Cornelia, Sr. and Jones “Gus” Giovanni. She grew up in Lincoln Heights, a suburb of Cincinnati, Ohio, and in 1960 began her studies at her grandfather’s alma mater, Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. In 1967, she graduated with honors with a B.A. in History. Afterward she went on to attend the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University.

In 1969, Giovanni began teaching at Livingston College of Rutgers University, and since 1987, she has taught writing and literature at Virginia Tech, where she is a University Distinguished Professor. She has received the NAACP Image Award several times, received twenty honorary doctorates and various other awards, including the Rosa Parks Woman of Courage Award, and the Langston Hughes Award for Distinguished Contributions to Arts and Letters. She also holds the key to several different cities, including Dallas, Miami, New York, and Los Angeles. She is a member of the Order of the Eastern Star (PHA), and an Honorary Member of Delta Sigma Theta sorority.

Giovanni taught the Virginia Tech shooter Seung-Hui Cho in a poetry class. She described him as “mean” and “menacing”, when she approached the department chair to have Cho taken out of her class, and said she was willing to resign rather than continue teaching him. She stated that, upon hearing of the shooting, she immediately suspected that Cho might be the shooter. Giovanni was asked by Virginia Tech President, Charles Steger, to give a convocation speech the day before the memorial service. She was asked by Steger at 5pm on April 16, 2007 and gave the speech April 17. She expressed that she usually feels very comfortable delivering speeches but worried that her emotion would get the best of her. On April 17, 2007, at the Virginia Tech Convocation commemorating the April 17 Virginia Tech massacre, Giovanni closed the ceremony with a chant poem, intoning:

“ We know we did nothing to deserve it. But neither does a child in Africa dying of AIDS. Neither do the invisible children walking the night awake to avoid being captured by a rogue army. Neither does the baby elephant watching his community being devastated for ivory. Neither does the Mexican child looking for fresh water…We are Virginia Tech…We will prevail. ”
Her speech also desired to express that really terrible things happen to good people: “I would call it, in terms of writing, in terms of poetry, it’s a laundry list. Because all you’re doing is: This is who we are, and this is what we think, and this is what we feel, and this is why – you know?… I just wanted to admit, you know, that we didn’t deserve this, and nobody does. And so I wanted to link our tragedy, in every sense, you know – we’re no different from anything else that has hurt….”

She also thought that ending with a thrice-repeated “We will prevail” would be anticlimactic, and she wanted to connect back with the beginning, for balance. So, shortly before going onstage, she added a closing: “We are Virginia Tech.” Giovanni’s rhetorical approach can be traced back to the ancient rhetoric term known as pathos. The high emotion of her speech really connected with the audience. Even after 6 years, “We Are” is now a common phrase used at Virginia Tech.

On August 21, 2007, The Tennessean reported that Giovanni is returning to her alma mater as a distinguished visiting professor at Fisk University.

~~~

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