About this poet

On June 7, 1943, Yolanda Cornelia "Nikki" Giovanni was born in Knoxville, Tennessee and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio. In 1960, she entered Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, where she worked with the school's Writer's Workshop and edited the literary magazine. After receiving her bachelor of arts degree in 1967, she organized the Black Arts Festival in Cincinnati before entering graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University.

In her first two collections, Black Feeling, Black Talk (Harper Perennial, 1968) and Black Judgement (Broadside Press, 1969), Giovanni reflects on the African-American identity. Recently, she has published Bicycles: Love Poems (William Morrow, 2009); Acolytes (HarperCollins, 2007); The Collected Poetry of Nikki Giovanni: 1968-1998 (2003); Quilting the Black-Eyed Pea: Poems and Not-Quite Poems (2002); Blues For All the Changes: New Poems (1999); Love Poems (1997); and Selected Poems of Nikki Giovanni (University Press of Mississippi, 1996).

A lung cancer survivor, Giovanni has also contributed an introduction to the anthology Breaking the Silence: Inspirational Stories of Black Cancer Survivors (Hilton Publishing, 2005).

Her honors include the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. Award for Dedication and Commitment to Service in 2009, three NAACP Image Awards for Literature in 1998, the Langston Hughes award for Distinguished Contributions to Arts and Letters in 1996, as well as more than twenty honorary degrees from national colleges and universities. She has been given keys to more than a dozen cities, including New York, Los Angeles, Dallas, Miami, and New Orleans.

Several magazines have named Giovanni Woman of the Year, including Essence, Mademoiselle, Ebony, and Ladies Home Journal. She was the first recipient of the Rosa Parks Woman of Courage Award. She has served as poetry judge for the National Book Awards and was a finalist for a Grammy Award in the category of Spoken Word.

She is currently Professor of English and Gloria D. Smith Professor of Black Studies at Virginia Tech, where she has taught since 1987.

Possum Crossing

Nikki Giovanni, 1943
Backing out the driveway
the car lights cast an eerie glow
in the morning fog centering
on movement in the rain slick street

Hitting brakes I anticipate a squirrel or a cat or sometimes
a little raccoon
I once braked for a blind little mole who try though he did
could not escape the cat toying with his life
Mother-to-be possum occasionally lopes home . . . being
naturally . . . slow her condition makes her even more ginger

We need a sign POSSUM CROSSING to warn coffee-gurgling neighbors:
we share the streets with more than trucks and vans and
railroad crossings

All birds being the living kin of dinosaurs
think themselves invincible and pay no heed
to the rolling wheels while they dine
on an unlucky rabbit

I hit brakes for the flutter of the lights hoping it's not a deer
or a skunk or a groundhog
coffee splashes over the cup which I quickly put away from me
and into the empty passenger seat
I look . . .
relieved and exasperated ...
to discover I have just missed a big wet leaf
struggling . . . to lift itself into the wind
and live

From Quilting the Black-Eyed Pea by Nikki Giovanni. Copyright © 2003 by Nikki Giovanni. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins. All rights reserved.

Nikki Giovanni

Nikki Giovanni

Born in 1943, Nikki Giovanni is the author of numerous collections of poetry and was the first recipient of the Rosa Parks Woman of Courage Award

by this poet

poem
This is my first memory:
A big room with heavy wooden tables that sat on a creaky
       wood floor
A line of green shades—bankers’ lights—down the center
Heavy oak chairs that were too low or maybe I was simply
       too short
              For me to sit in and read
So my first book was always big

In the
poem
(for Sally Sellers)

Like a fading piece of cloth
I am a failure

No longer do I cover tables filled with food and laughter
My seams are frayed my hems falling my strength no longer able
To hold the hot and cold

I wish for those first days
When just woven I could keep water
From seeping through
Repelled stains