Giovanni is a poet and an outspoken advocate for civil rights who has been honored with seven NAACP Image Awards. She is a University Distinguished Professor at Virginia Tech, and in 2007 her poem We Are Virginia Tech was credited with helping to heal the community immediately after the mass shooting that killed 33 people. Last month, Giovanni, 73, received the Library of Virginia's Lifetime Achievement Award. Her book Gemini: An Extended Autographical Statement on My First 25 Years of Being a Black Poet was a finalist for the 1973 National Book Award. Her other works include Ego Tripping and Other Poems for Young People, A Dialogue: James Baldwin and Nikki Giovanni and Hip Hop Speaks to Children.
On Nov. 16, she spoke to us by phone from her office at Virginia Tech.
What's on your nightstand?
I'm considering a project with one of my colleagues. We will discuss what we like and don't like in kids' lit, and so the book I'm reading is for youth, Bud Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis. I'm getting my memory back up on it and other authors, too. I'm also reading The Crossover by Kwame Alexander. I enjoy how he approaches it all.
Because of the political divisiveness we are seeing, what do you encourage the typical American, young and old, to read right now?
I think you have to go back and read some Langston Hughes and enjoy some poetry. Poetry can embrace you. There's also a good book called Freedom Over Me: 11 Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life by Ashley Bryan.
When my son was little he loved looking at Ashley Bryan. Why is he a helpful choice right now?
Ashley is very smart. First of all, he's an illustrator. We get the pictures, and he's bringing history to us in a way we can embrace. He's not just smacking us in the face. He says it. He says, "This is who I am, and these are my dreams." It just uplifts you. He shows us the whole human being and the human being's dreams.
What would you encourage our president-elect to read?
The Constitution. Obviously he hasn't read it, and if he gets finished with that, I'd encourage him to read some Miss Manners columns. You wouldn't have the foolishness he brought to the campaign if he had read her, and I'm sure Miss Manners would not have agreed with any of this. Don't you think this is one of the rudest campaigns you've seen in your life?
Is there anything else you want to say about literature and America?
Part of American literature is song, and in class (on writing for a younger audience) today, I said that, even though it's a sad day in America, we know that song and music is going to change, and I think that is wonderful. Going back to slavery, we know the music comes out. The spirituals and then gospel came from it, and rhythm and blues and jazz and ultimately hip-hop. There's a sadness now, but I think a different music will come out, and I'm excited to hear what the kids will be singing and how they will sing it. You'll get to see what I'm saying. When we went into civil rights, you noticed the music change. This is a story you're going to be able to write.
Contact Piper Castillo at [email protected] Follow @Florida_PBJC.