While Giovanni was at Fisk, the Second Black Renaissance emerged as black writers and other artists looked for new ways to express their distinctive culture to an increasingly interested public. Once a supporter of 1964 Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater, Giovanni rejected her conservative views in favor of the radicalism she encountered in fellow classmates. In addition to participating in the Fisk Writers Workshop taught by novelist John Oliver Killens and editing Elan, the campus literary magazine, Giovanni organized a campus chapter of the SNCC. At that time, the organization was promoting the idea of ”black power” to effect social and economic reform.
After graduating in 1967 with a degree in history, Giovanni continued her studies at the University of Pennsylvania before taking classes at Columbia University’s School of Fine Arts, a time saddened by the death of her beloved grandmother. Responding to the assassinations of civil rights leaders and the urgent need to raise awareness of African American rights, Giovanni published Black Feeling, Black Talk (1968) and Black Judgement (1968), her first two books of poetry. From a militant African American perspective, Giovanni reflects the anger and enthusiasm of the writers and activists she became involved with during the 1960s. These early volumes quickly established Giovanni as a prominent new voice in black literature. Dubbed the ”Princess of Black Poetry,” she was in great demand as a speaker at colleges throughout the United States.
Poet Nikki Giovanni gained widespread popularity for being a fierce promoter of African American rights during the Second Black Renaissance, a period of rapid cultural change and literary development for blacks in the 1960s. Since that time, she has evolved from an aggressive, explosive revolutionary to a quieter voice of universal sensitivity and artistic beauty. Though many early admirers have faulted her in later years for taking a less confrontational stance toward societal change, Giovanni contends that as the world has changed, so have her ideas. As a result of her best-selling recordings and her speaking tours, Giovanni has made her poems accessible to multigenerational and international audiences.
Giovanni was born on June 7,1943, in Knoxville, Tennessee, but her family soon moved to a predominantly black community in Wyoming, Ohio, a suburb of Cincinnati. Spending her sophomore and junior years of high school in Tennessee with her grandparents, Giovanni was greatly influenced by her outspoken grandmother, who instilled in the girl an intense appreciation for her African American heritage. Both grandparents, as well as Giovanni’s mother, were gifted storytellers, and this early exposure to the power of spoken language would influence Giovanni’s career as a poet, particularly her penchant for colloquialisms, or informal words and phrases associated with common speech.
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During the summer of 1969, Giovanni gave birth to a son. Although she was criticized for having a child out of wedlock, Giovanni stood by the decision she had made as a young girl: she would never marry because the institution of marriage was inhospitable to women. After Giovanni became a mother, her work shifted in focus, reflecting a change in her priorities. The tone of her poetry became warmer, concerned less with revolution and more with such themes as family love and the nature of poetry itself. She formed her own publishing cooperative in 1970 and the following year published the first of her children’s books, Spin a Soft Black Song (1971), a collection of poems written for her son.
At the time Giovanni returned to Fisk, the United States was in a state of tumult caused by both the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War. Elijah Muhammad, Malcolm X, and the Nation of Islam encouraged blacks to pursue radical self-assertion and revolutionary change. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) were among the groups that were in full action, fighting for the liberation and equality of African Americans. Antiwar demonstrations and other protests erupted on college campuses throughout the country as students demanded social and political change.
Encouraged by several teachers, Giovanni enrolled at Fisk University, a prestigious all-black college in Nashville, Tennessee. Her independent spirit, however, led to her being asked to leave by the school’s Dean of Women. After a new dean assumed leadership, Giovanni was invited back, and she returned to Fisk in 1964 determined to be an ideal student. Active and highly respected at the university, she became a leader in political and literary activities on campus during what would prove to be an important era in African American history.
Giovanni, who felt she had a personal mission to talk directly to African Americans in her poetry, discovered a way to achieve this goal when she began recording her poems against a background of gospel music. Her first album, Truth Is on Its Way (1971), was a success with the older generation as well as with the young; she later explained that she had wanted the work to be something that her grandmother would have enjoyed. Encouraged by the success of her recording, Giovanni turned to a variety of media to reach as wide an audience as possible. In addition to publishing more books, she appeared on television talk shows, and she made several audio- and videotapes in which she discusses poetry and African American issues with other poets.
Slightly after "Love Song" was written, Nikki Giovanni, a poet born in Tennessee, embarked on a poem she titles "Love in Place." While the authors were products of entirely dissimilar backgrounds, the two pieces seem to parallel each other in various ways.
Though his artwork was influenced by many of his friends and relatives, Giovanni possessed certain qualities in his compositions which set him apart from the others.
A dynamic speaker and prolific writer, Giovanni’s popularity as a lecturer has increased along with her success as a poet and children’s author. Throughout the years, her works have included a wide range of topics: African American political leaders, national holidays, equal rights, hip-hop music, and even termites. She has received numerous awards, including the first Rosa L. Parks Woman of Courage Award. Since 1989, Giovanni has been an English professor at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia.