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Shaping The Truth
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Nikki Giovanni

      . . . poet. Ms. Giovanni is among the most celebrated and influential poets of America‚s Civil Rights, Black Power and Black Arts Movements on the 1960s. Her 26 volumes of poetry and prose include Quilting the Black-Eyed Pea. She has received two NAACP Image Awards, the Rosa Parks Woman of Courage Award and the Langston Hughes Medal for Outstanding Poetry, 17 honorary degrees, and the keys to more than a dozen cities. She was woman of the year for Mademoiselle, Ladies‚ Home Journal and Essence magazines and is University Distinguished Professor/English at Virginia Tech.

Excerpts3:00 secs

      Nikki Giovanni is a big fan of the future. This world-renowned poet believes it's time we get back in gear and move that future forward. Again.

      Ms. Giovanni's sense that things can and must change for the better is surely rooted in her experience as part of America's great citizens' revolution -- the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. Her poetic voice placed Ms. Giovanni among the most celebrated and influential voices in three different arenas with a common denominator -- the Civil Rights Movement, the Black Power Movement and the Black Arts Movement. More than four decades later, Ms. Giovanni continues to be heard, affirming life while reminding us of a range of social ills yet to be addressed.

      Now the University Distinguished Professor/English at Virginia Tech, Ms. Giovanni also tours, mentors and writes. She has twenty-six volumes of poetry to her name (her latest entitled Quilting the Black-Eyed Pea) in addition to worthy prose. Her long list of honors includes two NAACP Image Awards, the Langston Hughes Medal for Outstanding Poetry and the Rosa Parks Woman of Courage Award. She was woman of the year for "Mademoiselle," "Ladies' Home Journal" and "Essence" magazines.

      But distinction and maturity have not muted Nikki Giovanni. She's no more intimidated by Big Issues now than she ever was. War stinks, she declares. And she has no use for bullies, particularly when they occupy the most powerful positions in the world. She's all for taxes -- free people cannot exist with them, she's quite certain. She has her students study what the Fugitive Slave Law has in common with today's War on Terrorism. (Both call on ordinary people to "snitch" on their neighbors.) And she wants us all to be happy.

      Whatever Nikki Giovanni has done in life, she firmly believes she's done the best she could do at that point: refusing to bow to 1950's university "in loco parentis" policies; helping topple America's Jim Crow apartheid laws; reminding contemporary America that the South lost the Civil War; or helping present day students explore great and untold American stories of slaves who attempted to escape plantation bondage and those who stayed behind.

      Nikki Giovanni is quick to affirm that the world's seen a lot of change for the good. She calls Civil Rights the mother load of a whole series of improvements, from ending an unwinnable war in Vietnam to pointing America toward justice. She also understands that she was part of a remarkable generation, shaped she thinks by their Grandmothers. What does Nikki Giovanni have to say for her generation? They didn't "think" they could change the world...they did it.

[This Program was recorded January 22, 2003, in Atlanta, Georgia, US.]

Conversation 1

Nikki Giovanni tells Paula Gordon and Bill Russell why she thinks today's "news" is ridiculous. She describes how her news gathering and reading habits have changed, concerned about how to be a responsible citizen when news sources are not trustworthy.


Conversation 2

Having started college early, Ms. Giovanni remembers her own teenage years and compares them to the challenges facing today's young people. She recalls how her independent spirit and history collided with "in loco parentis" policies in the late 1950s as the Civil Rights Movement was being advanced by students. She applauds the skills of social workers in general and in particular. She distinguishes between a confrontational public life and a polite private one, remembering her year in Social Work school, then at Columbia University. She describes how teaching allows her to act on the principle: You can't brutalize people and expect them to come out sane and kind.


Conversation 3

Born of her experience in the '60s, Ms. Giovanni remains certain that people can and do change the world. She gives vivid examples of how the civil rights struggle was "the mother lode" for broad social change in the '60s, bringing examples into the present. War stinks, she says, and insists that she is a big fan of the future. Ms. Giovanni describes her approach to writing and to bringing her influence to bear. She urges people to dream big dreams and act on them in spite of obstacles. She explains why she is a big fan of sports.


Conversation 4

Crediting her Grandmother and her Grandmother's generation for her own success, Ms. Giovanni remembers the particulars of how that generation molded the young people who both came of age in the '50s and '60s and played leading roles in the Civil Rights struggle. Ms. Giovanni considers the role of grandparents now, of religion and of hypocrites. We have to learn to trust each other, she asserts, and finds examples in her classroom experience -- helping young people see the similarities between the Fugitive Slave Law and today's War on Terrorism. She (poetically) describes the world she would make, given the opportunity.


Conversation 5

A sense of humor is vitally important, says Ms. Giovanni, who thinks humans are sweet, not silly. She continues, offering a series of reasons why it is important to continue to remind everyone that The South lost America's Civil War. She decries terrorism and terrorists, includes George W. Bush among the latter, and decries all bullies. She tells the story of why she has a tattoo for Tupak Shakur.


Conversation 6

Ms. Giovanni remembers how her son discovered her fame. She describes several "beautiful boys" who were influenced by her work. She champions taxes and all the important work that needs to be funded by them. We owe allegiance to whatever sparks life, she insists, urging young people in particular to be life-affirming.


Related Links:
Quilting the Black-Eyed Pea and a number of Ms. Giovanni's other books of poetry and prose are published by William Morrow, an imprint of Harper Collins. Caedmon/HarperAudio makes "The Nikki Giovanni Audio Collection," read with commentary by Ms. Giovanni, available on CD and cassette.


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