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Women in Poetry: Nikki Giovanni

There is no name in poetry that matters more than Nikki Giovanni’s. That may just be my obsession for her talking but there is some truth to it. If you attend VT and do not know who Nikki is, I encourage you to look her up as you are unaware of the legend that walks these rural streets.

If you do research her, you will find that my obsession in Nikki is not a misplaced one. She is a poet and academic by trade and her works have impacted countless people and incited actual social change. Though she didn’t know it at the time, she was an integral cog in the Black Arts Movement and subsequently, the Civil Rights Movement. It’s no wonder I wanted to interview her.

I had been trying to get up the courage to speak with her for 3 years but every time I found myself in her presence, no words came to mind. Coincidentally, she was a guest speaker in my class this semester and I knew it was the perfect time to set up an interview with her. I forced myself to get her attention and tell her that I admired and would love to speak with her sometime. She graciously and without hesitation said yes.

I felt interviewing Nikki was extremely important given our current social climate. She is a resource at Tech that has seen it all and if anyone could give me advice about how to navigate this difficult time in our county, it was her. I found a parallel with Nikki as when she was in college in the 60s with the Civil Rights Movement was in its early stages and I am in college now with the Black Lives Matter movement on the rise. Although it has been 50 years, there is a lot of things that remain the same as when Nikki was my age.

I began the interview with my burning question:

“What advice could you give to young women, especially those of color, to navigate this time of social unrest?”

“Well I think the most important thing to do is know what’s going on.”

Nikki was adamant that the best way to deal with this time or even make a change is to simply be informed. Stay up to date on news and know the facts about what is happening, not just opinions.

She went on to say that it is not just enough to know what is happening, you must know how you feel about what is happening and document that. Self-reflection seemed quite important to Nikki. She brought up Anne Frank and her diary, saying Anne didn’t know that the little diary she was keeping was going to be useful someday, she just wrote about her life. Nikki encouraged me to the same.

“You want to interview people like me and ask my thoughts but what’s more important is your thoughts.”

This bewildered me. In journalism, we are told to interview as many people as possible and write about their stories. We are rarely told to write about our own. Nikki is the first professor to tell me that my thoughts are just as important, if not more important, than other’s.

Nikki explained that when she was writing her poetry in the 60s, she wasn’t writing it to create a change, she was writing it for herself. To keep track of her thoughts and analyze how she felt about the injustice. It just so happened that her poems became a huge part of the Black Arts Movement.  

 “So, is that how you would make a social change? Just write about our experiences?”

“Yes, our voice is our best tool. If you don’t have your voice, what do you have?”

Sara is a Junior at VT studying Multimedia Journalism and Africana Studies. Way to her heart: Taco Bell, makeup, shopping. In that order.
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