As a leading voice in the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and ‘70s, Nikki Giovanni’s fiery and radically conscious poetry has challenged social, political and cultural constructs for years.
From children’s books to volumes of poetry and spoken word recordings, her poetry and prose have expanded thought and imagination with language that unapologetically puts a mirror to America, analyzes humanity, and delivers layered and colorful truths about the Black experience.
Listen: Poet and educator Nikki Giovanni discusses Black Arts Movement legacy, how today’s art community is amplifying the mission, and the inspiration behind her 2Pac tattoo.
Nikki Giovanni’s latest body of work, “Make Me Rain: Poems & Prose” (HarperCollins), is a deeply rooted and personal collection that explores societal injustices while illuminating Black culture, taking readers inside of Giovanni’s private space. Thematically, as in her 2017 release, “A Good Cry,” “Make Me Rain,” builds on the concept of water and its growth properties.
“’A Good Cry’ was important because a lot of us, and I would include myself, for the longest time didn’t know how to cry because we had things to do. My generation had things to do. You never saw John Lewis cry. He was injured and would get up and do what he had to do. Martin Luther King, Jr. knew that he was probably going to be murdered, as sad as that is. But you weren’t going to see him crying or whining,” Giovanni says. “I was interested in the water because water is what makes things grow. You can’t have life without water. Water grows from your tears and a part of what grows from your tears is you. You have helped yourself learn that it’s alright to grow.”
Acknowledging the collection’s book cover, Ms. Giovanni notes that it is an homage to Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On?” album cover. Though she never met the artist, as part of a generation actively invested in the elevation of Black pride, consciousness and equality through the arts, creating the cover in his honor also pulls attention to the title of the record – a query that resonates today just as heavily as at the time of its original 1971 release.
“Art is for the people [and] he wanted to make a statement,” she says. “ He could have written [“What’s Going On?”] yesterday– we have people not knowing what to do. It’s right on time.”
A University Distinguished Professor of English at Virginia Tech since 1987, Nikki Giovanni’s activism through literary arts and education have contributed to her reverence and prominence on the American stage.