Was there ever a time when I did not know of Nikki Giovanni? I ‘d have to go way back to check because she was in my college anthologies, first. But most pointedly, I had her albums and tapes of her reading her poems with music in the background. She was certainly a forerunner of rap and hip hop, as were The Last Poets.
In my apartment in College Park, Georgia, I had her album, propped up in the living room in the late 70’s. The cover had a beautiful, brown, wide-eyed baby on the cover, and it was titled, Truth Is On Its Way. I enjoyed it as I listened to her storytelling with a powerful choir in the background. She made me think and ponder the many aspects of life.
I liked all of it but there are a couple of pieces that stick out in my mind. In her Alabama Poem, there is an old woman sitting on her porch working on her bunions and she asks the young woman walking by what they were teaching her at Tuskegee College, down the way. She gave the passerby a few quick life lessons that would serve her for years to come. One pointer was not to judge the goodness of a man even if he has no DE-GREE. (Hilarious!)
The other track called All I Gotta Do, helped me to learn to wait, along with John Burroughs poem called Waiting. She says, “All I gotta do is sit and wait. Sit and wait and maybe it will find me.” I have learned that yes, waiting is truly difficult, but it is still a virtue. As others began to putter out, those patient ones begin to shine.
At my place in Evanston in the mid 70’s I loved her rendition of My House. It is definitive as she marks her own territory and says, “And my windows might be dirty,… and if I can’t see out sometimes, but they can’t see in either…” (Love it!) She has that quiet, succinct humor that sticks and stays in the psyche.
Time passed on and Sista Nikki continually evolved as I too rowed by boat further up and down the streams. She went on to do a stint with NASA. I always kept up with her movements and caught her when I could. She came to Memphis in the late 80’s where there was a conference of literary giants. I made my way over to LeMoyne-Owen College and there stood Paula Giddings holding with a bouquet of roses in the reception area.
And then like magic, there stood Nikki, alone and self-assured. In a flash, we were facing each other and about three feet apart. She smiled and I did the same. No words were spoken nor needed. We had an inaudible Namaste moment. And that moment never left me because we were breathing the same space and hopefully some of that poetic energy flowed on to me.
Years later, I saw her speak in an auditorium at Boston Public Library in the 2000’s. I tried to see her again when she came to speak at the Harold Washington Library in downtown Chicago again in the mid 2000’s. When I headed to the basement to go the Auditorium. I couldn’t get in. It was packed. Closed. No room in the inn. No surprise there!
When tragedy struck at Virginia Tech in the mid -2000’s her voice rang out. She is a Professor of Letters there. She spoke in defense of her students with care and concern, and I thought, “Nikki, being Nikki.” Always speaking the word of truth to power and exemplifying the consummate black woman and poet. A true sista, High Priestess of the Spoken Word always telling it like it is. Salut, Sista Nikki! Speak on!
May 21, 2022