The Incomparable Nikki Giovanni

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Nikki Giovanni is on tour promoting her new book of poetry “A Good Cry:
What We Learn From Tears and Laughter.” She stopped in New York City for several events including a discussion and book signing at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.

 

Her new book of poetry focuses on the memories of friends, family and former students. I have not read the book yet but just listening to the discussing had on last evening lets me know I need to prepare myself emotionally. Giovanni was interviewed by journalist Joy-Ann Reid.

 

Whenever I step into the Schomburg I am in a place that evokes emotion for me. I am fortunate that I live nearby to attend events at such a place of history. I previously tried to see Nikki Giovanni while I lives in the DMV but that didn’t happen. I got tickets earlier this week. I arrived at 5:30 to a line wrapped around inside the building. However I knew I was still early enough to get a good seat for the 6:30 start time. I bought my son William with me because I feel it is important for him to learn the richness of our culture.

Nikki won the Langston Hughes Medal for Outstanding Poetry so what a fun coincidence this awesome discussion took place at the Langston Hughes Auditorium.

My budget for the week had been depleated so I knew I wouldn’t be making a purchase. Still I wanted the experience to be more special than an autograph. I cheered loudly, yelling and clapping my hands like the hottest boy band hard hit the stage. She looked as I have remembered her from all the pictures I’ve seen. I feel in love with her voice listening to her album “A Certain Peace.” Her voice was the same. I loved listening to the way she pronounced certain words on her album. She has a flow, though she doesn’t think of herself as a rapper. On this night she was everything I’d heard on the album and then some.

She is hilariously funny! Telling stories of her difficult father and friendship with Maya Angelou, you can see Giovanni cherishes her close relationships. She told the crowd it is no one’s business who one sleeps with. She showed her “Thug Life” tattoo she got after the death of rapper Tupac. She doesn’t read the news much because of the Orangeman in office.

Now 74 years old, Giovanni’s new book is where she is at today. I came to know Ms. Gioivanni through My Poem, a radical piece that I performed as part of my high school ACT-SO repertoire. This extreme poem and so many others of hers motivated me. They helped me find my performance voice. The Giovanni I encountered on this evening isn’t the same woman that wrote the radical poems of her young years. She is older, wiser and realizes her time left here is limited. She suffered a seizure which left her with some memory issues. But Giovanni is thankful she didn’t have a stroke.

I love the Nikki Giovanni I met at the Schomburg. I shook her soft hand and longed for more interaction with her. I would love to sit at her feet while she talks and I listen. Her soft hand, gentle voice and greeting to my son made it all worth it. The softness of her hand was a welcomed surprised. I’m blushing thinking about it.

Audience members were able to ask questions. I did not step up to the mic to ask anything. One lady towards the end of the evening spoke about meeting a young Giovanni in New York City 50 years prior. She talked of Giovanni’s struggles and asked had she ever discussed that period in her life. Giovanni can’t answer questions that start with ‘do you remember.’ Her seizure means she does not.

                

I don’t know much about the struggle years of Nikki Giovanni. By the time I discovered her poetry for myself it was the late 90’s. I read an article she did in Ebony or Jet in the 1970’s where she said she became a single mother because she could afford too. It was a novel idea for me because I never would have choosen single motherhood for myself. I was inspired by that though. The idea that we choose difficult task in life because we can afford to do so.

For the writers in the crowd, Giovanni blessed us with her wisdom. She told the crowd there was such thing as writers block but that you simple don’t have all the information. I was blown away by this. I don’t often get writers block. I write my longer pieces in chunks over a period of time. Nikki types her poems these days, about the only thing she does on the computer. She doesn’t know how to tweet or use Facebook. Although she does take selfies with her cell phone.

My evening with Nikki Giovanni was so worth it! I fought back tears so much. I hate crying in public. But it was an emotional experience seeing a lady that I have admired since I knew who she was. She represents so much good about poetry and the art of writing it. She takes the simple, makes it poetic and we are speechless! Nikki Giovanni genius knows no bounds even at 74 years old.

 

I leave you with my favorite poem by Nikki Giovanni with some awesome music from her 1974 album “The Way I Feel.” I love reciting this poem right along with Nikki!

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