This sample Nikki Giovanni Essay is published for informational purposes only. Free essays and research papers, are not written by our writers, they are contributed by users, so we are not responsible for the content of this free sample paper. If you want to buy a high quality essay at affordable price please use our custom essay writing service.
Poet Nikki Giovanni gained widespread popularity for being a fierce promoter of African American rights during the Second Black Renaissance, a period of rapid cultural change and literary development for blacks in the 1960s. Since that time, she has evolved from an aggressive, explosive revolutionary to a quieter voice of universal sensitivity and artistic beauty. Though many early admirers have faulted her in later years for taking a less confrontational stance toward societal change, Giovanni contends that as the world has changed, so have her ideas. As a result of her best-selling recordings and her speaking tours, Giovanni has made her poems accessible to multigenerational and international audiences.
Works in Biographical and Historical Context
A Heritage Rich in Language
Giovanni was born on June 7,1943, in Knoxville, Tennessee, but her family soon moved to a predominantly black community in Wyoming, Ohio, a suburb of Cincinnati. Spending her sophomore and junior years of high school in Tennessee with her grandparents, Giovanni was greatly influenced by her outspoken grandmother, who instilled in the girl an intense appreciation for her African American heritage. Both grandparents, as well as Giovanni’s mother, were gifted storytellers, and this early exposure to the power of spoken language would influence Giovanni’s career as a poet, particularly her penchant for colloquialisms, or informal words and phrases associated with common speech.
Encouraged by several teachers, Giovanni enrolled at Fisk University, a prestigious all-black college in Nashville, Tennessee. Her independent spirit, however, led to her being asked to leave by the school’s Dean of Women. After a new dean assumed leadership, Giovanni was invited back, and she returned to Fisk in 1964 determined to be an ideal student. Active and highly respected at the university, she became a leader in political and literary activities on campus during what would prove to be an important era in African American history.
Revolution, Renaissance, and Reform
At the time Giovanni returned to Fisk, the United States was in a state of tumult caused by both the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War. Elijah Muhammad, Malcolm X, and the Nation of Islam encouraged blacks to pursue radical self-assertion and revolutionary change. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) were among the groups that were in full action, fighting for the liberation and equality of African Americans. Antiwar demonstrations and other protests erupted on college campuses throughout the country as students demanded social and political change.
While Giovanni was at Fisk, the Second Black Renaissance emerged as black writers and other artists looked for new ways to express their distinctive culture to an increasingly interested public. Once a supporter of 1964 Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater, Giovanni rejected her conservative views in favor of the radicalism she encountered in fellow classmates. In addition to participating in the Fisk Writers Workshop taught by novelist John Oliver Killens and editing Elan, the campus literary magazine, Giovanni organized a campus chapter of the SNCC. At that time, the organization was promoting the idea of ”black power” to effect social and economic reform.
A Voice of Power
After graduating in 1967 with a degree in history, Giovanni continued her studies at the University of Pennsylvania before taking classes at Columbia University’s School of Fine Arts, a time saddened by the death of her beloved grandmother. Responding to the assassinations of civil rights leaders and the urgent need to raise awareness of African American rights, Giovanni published Black Feeling, Black Talk (1968) and Black Judgement (1968), her first two books of poetry. From a militant African American perspective, Giovanni reflects the anger and enthusiasm of the writers and activists she became involved with during the 1960s. These early volumes quickly established Giovanni as a prominent new voice in black literature. Dubbed the ”Princess of Black Poetry,” she was in great demand as a speaker at colleges throughout the United States.
Effects of Motherhood
During the summer of 1969, Giovanni gave birth to a son. Although she was criticized for having a child out of wedlock, Giovanni stood by the decision she had made as a young girl: she would never marry because the institution of marriage was inhospitable to women. After Giovanni became a mother, her work shifted in focus, reflecting a change in her priorities. The tone of her poetry became warmer, concerned less with revolution and more with such themes as family love and the nature of poetry itself. She formed her own publishing cooperative in 1970 and the following year published the first of her children’s books, Spin a Soft Black Song (1971), a collection of poems written for her son.
Reaching Her Public
Giovanni, who felt she had a personal mission to talk directly to African Americans in her poetry, discovered a way to achieve this goal when she began recording her poems against a background of gospel music. Her first album, Truth Is on Its Way (1971), was a success with the older generation as well as with the young; she later explained that she had wanted the work to be something that her grandmother would have enjoyed. Encouraged by the success of her recording, Giovanni turned to a variety of media to reach as wide an audience as possible. In addition to publishing more books, she appeared on television talk shows, and she made several audio- and videotapes in which she discusses poetry and African American issues with other poets.
A dynamic speaker and prolific writer, Giovanni’s popularity as a lecturer has increased along with her success as a poet and children’s author. Throughout the years, her works have included a wide range of topics: African American political leaders, national holidays, equal rights, hip-hop music, and even termites. She has received numerous awards, including the first Rosa L. Parks Woman of Courage Award. Since 1989, Giovanni has been an English professor at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia.
Works in Literary Context
While the turbulent 1960s and the Second Black Renaissance gave direction to Giovanni’s voice, the seeds of activism were sown during the time she spent with her grandmother. A woman of powerful character, Giovanni’s grandmother inspired the young girl to speak out about things that were important to her. Her grandmother’s proud sense of race was also a strong influence, teaching Giovanni to value her place in black culture and to recognize her responsibility to fellow African Americans. Without a doubt, Giovanni’s power has reached thousands of individuals of all ethnic backgrounds.
Conscious of the importance of diction— a writer’s choice and control of words—Giovanni’s emphasis on the sound of language in her poetry has earned her considerable attention. As in the collection Re: Creation (1970), she oftentimes manipulates language to conform to song-like rhythms, creating musical word arrangements that reflect jazz and blues songs. In fact, the poem ”Ego Tripping” ends in a sudden shift to the words of a popular blues song: ”I am so perfect so divine so ethereal so surreal / I cannot be comprehended / except by my permission / I mean … I … can fly / like a bird in the sky.” Because of Giovanni’s skill with language, the meaning of her poetry is enhanced by the cadences of individual lines. Blues: For All the Changes—New Poems (1999) is a collection that pays homage to jazz and the blues, specifically the blues singer Alberta Hunter. In Blues, says reviewer Calvin Reid, ”jazz riffs mingle with memories of going to the ballpark with her father to see the Cincinnati Reds.”
In On My Journey Now: Looking at African American History through the Spirituals (2007), Giovanni examines the various human needs that have been served by the words and music of old-time spiritual songs. Complete with lyrics, the book discusses the place of spirituals in the lives of the black community. In addition to expressing their religious devotion and boosting their spirits as they suffered the brutalities of slavery, spirituals provided a means for slaves to communicate with each other without being discovered, especially when sharing information about the activities of the Underground Railroad. The influences of this rich oral history can be seen throughout Giovanni’s work, most notably in the recordings she has made in which she recites her poetry against a background of gospel music.
Works in Critical Context
Critics praised Giovanni’s early work for its raw emotion, energy, and commitment to black issues. However, later works have led formerly enthusiastic readers to question her shift from political issues to personal experiences, and Giovanni has been accused of abandoning the African American movement. One such opponent is Paula Giddings, who writes, ”Giovanni has evolved to be that creature which often finds itself estranged from the history which created it.” In contrast, Giovanni’s supporters contend that she appeals to an audience who feels disconnected from radical and violent protest poetry and that her work still reflects the African American experience, though from a more personal slant. Recognizing the strength and consistency of Giovanni’s voice, William J. Harris argues: ”On the whole what is most striking about Giovanni’s poetry is that she has created the charming persona of ‘Nikki Giovanni’ [who] is honest, searching, complex, lusty, and, above all, individualistic and charmingly egotistical.”
Blues: For All the Changes—New Poems
The publication of Blues in 1999 marks Giovanni’s movement into the twenty-first century with poetry that is, says reviewer Donna Seaman, ”socially conscious, outspoken, and roguishly funny.” She continues: ”Giovanni makes supple use of the irony inherent in the blues, writing tough, sly, and penetrating monologues that both hammer away at racism and praise the good things in life.” Her first volume of poetry in five years, Blues was published after Giovanni’s battle with lung cancer. Writes Denolynn Carroll, the volume ”offers thoughts on her battle with illness, on nature, and on the everyday—all laced with doses of harsh reality, a mix of socio-political viewpoints, and personal memories of loss.”
- Fowler, Virginia. Nikki Giovanni. Boston: Twayne, 1992.
- Giovanni, Nikki. The Collected Poetry of Nikki Giovanni: 1968-1998. New York: William Morrow, 2003.
- –. Cotton Candy on a Rainy Day. Introduction by Paula Giddings. New York: William Morrow, 1978.
- –. Ego-Tripping and Other Poems for Young People. Foreword by Virginia Hamilton. Chicago: Lawrence Hill Books, 1993.
- Harris, William J. ”Sweet Soft Essence of Possibility: The Poetry of Nikki Giovanni,” in Black Women Writers (1950-1980): A Critical Evaluation. Edited by Mari Evans. New York: Doubleday, 1984, pp. 218-228.
- Josephson, Judith P. Nikki Giovanni: Poet of the People. Berkeley Heights, N.J.: Enslow Publishers, 2003.
- Lee, Don L. Dynamite Voices I: Black Poets of the 1960s. Detroit: Broadside Press, 1971.
- Carroll, Denolynn. ”Review of Blues: For All the Changes—New Poems.” American Visions (October 1999): 34.
- Reid, Calvin. ”Nikki Giovanni: Three Decades on the Edge.” Publishers Weekly (June 28, 1999): 46.
- Seaman, Donna. ”Review of The Collected Poetry of Nikki Giovanni.” Booklist (December 15, 2003): 721.
Free essays are not written to satisfy your specific instructions. You can use our professional writing services to order a custom essay, research paper, or term paper on any topic and get your high quality paper at affordable price. UniversalEssays is the best choice for those who seek help in essay writing or research paper writing in any field of study.