Interview with poet and activist Nikki Giovanni

Sarah Haber, Assistant News Editor

Writing on topics ranging from poems Black Power and race issues to children’s literature, Nikki Giovanni is one of the world’s foremost African-American poets. Giovanni has been honored with numerous awards, including seven NAACP Image Awards and the Langston Hughes Medal. She is currently a University Distinguished Professor at Virginia Tech and has previously taught at Queens College, Rutgers and Ohio State. Assistant News Editor Sarah Haber ’22 had the chance to interview Giovanni on Jan. 29.


Q: How long have you been writing for?

A: 50 years. I published my first book when I was 25.

Q: What inspired you to become a writer?

A: I have been writing most of my life. I grew up without computers so we had to write everything. I have always been writing for one reason or another.

Q: What is it about poetry that intrigues you?

A: I like poetry and I think that poetry is a narrative, just like any form of writing is. What is nice is that it is compressed and it is like music; I like the lyrical feel poetry creates. I enjoy creating a rhythm; it is important that everything in life has a rhythm. I love stories and poetry creates the opportunity to tell a story through metaphors. I have never wanted to write a novel — I am actually amazed that people can remember and keep track of characters. I am not interested in playwriting because so much of it depends on your actors and how they perform their job. I like the way stories shine through in poetry and the emotion it creates.

Q: Do you have a favorite poem that you have written? Or a poem that is the most meaningful to you?

A: No, if you try to choose a favorite piece of your own work then you end up fighting with yourself. Everyone is constantly telling me which one of my poems they like the best but I do not want to choose favorites. 

Q: Your writings range from poems about Black power to poems for children, what has motivated you to cover such a wide range of topics?

A: Any writer writes about what is interesting to them in that moment. Black Power is important and the Black Power movement was extremely important, but I also like spiritual stories. I teach writing to a young audience and I believe that what kids read is important. I like being able to cover the entire spectrum.

Q: Looking back at your earlier work during the Civil Rights movement, do you think your writing helped to highlight the issues that occurred during that time period?

A: I hope my work has helped people to look at the movement differently. Every artist hopes to help the whole world move a little differently and see things in a new light.

Q: Do you think that literature being available on the internet will change the way in which people interact with writing pieces?

A: I am not convinced that the internet is a good thing. I think that the worst thing that has happened is that now you can Google anything. I grew up with libraries and you would go through the shelves in the library which would cause you to run into things that you were not even looking for. Now when you Google something, you get exactly what you are asking for and you do not have the chance to run into something new that may interest you. 

Q: Do you have any advice for college students who are aspiring writers?

A: If you want to be a writer, you have to listen to yourself. It is your voice and one of the really important things is to write about what interests you. If you do not write about what you are interested in, nobody else will be interested.

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