Giovanni addressed the Elon community in Whitley Auditorium on Thursday, March 3.
Nikki Giovanni is one of the most decorated poets of the past century. She is perhaps the most recognizable of the torchbearers of the Black Arts Movement, which focuses on promoting Black self-determination, solidarity and nationhood through music, literature, drama and visual arts.
Giovanni has created over 20 collections of poetry, 12 children’s books and seven albums. She has received seven NAACP Awards, the Carl Sandburg Literary Award, the Caldecott Honor Book Award, ranked No. 1 poet by the Academy of American Poets in 2007 and was named one of Oprah Winfrey’s 25 Living Legends in 2005. The list of accomplishments goes on and on.
However, she said Thursday night to the crowd gathered in Whitley Auditorium that she couldn’t be bothered by any of them.
“When you think about what you’ve accomplished, you start to hear a clock ticking,” Giovanni said, who is also the University Distinguished Professor at Virginia Tech. “I don’t want to hear that ticking. I like to go forward.”
The 78-year-old literary icon continues to think of future poems she wants to write about a myriad of topics that interest her. She has returned to visiting college campuses, with her trip to Elon as one of her first in-person engagements since before the pandemic began.
Taking the stage in Whitley, Giovanni read from one of her most recent books, “Make Me Rain: Poems & Prose,” as well as fan favorites including “Ego Tripping,” “Quilts” and “Vote.
A fountain of wisdom with enough life experience for several lifetimes, Giovanni isn’t keen on opinions and doesn’t try to force her beliefs on others.
“I don’t give advice. If I was in my 20s, I might because in your 20s you think you know everything and tell people what to do,” she said. “But I would say you should read because there’s something to be learned in everything. Just pay a little attention.”
Reading, especially libraries, played a significant role in her becoming a writer. She spoke of going to her local library every Monday as a child, her librarian, Ms. Long, and how that shaped her going forward. So much so that her next collection of poems, set to be released on Sept. 27, is titled “A Library.”
“Google doesn’t do what a library does,” Giovanni said. “Librarians and critics are the most important people to a writer because they are the people who keep your writing alive.”
During her reading, the audience in Whitley Auditorium hung on her every word, laughing as she facetiously described her bout with lung cancer, and growing more introspective as she discussed honoring her ancestors who were enslaved and the pride that would have in her.
One credo that she lives by is to fill the time between her birth and eventual death was as much happiness as possible.“We were born, and we will all die. But between that birth and that death ought to be joy,” Giovanni said.
When asked what motivates her to continue going forward, she replied, “Life’s an interesting idea.”