Nikki Giovanni’s Works Have Made Her One Of America’s Most Celebrated Poets

Nikki Giovanni
Nikki Giovanni will be giving a free poetry reading at Emory’s Schwartz Center on Feb. 22. (Credit: Courtesy of Nikki Giovanni)

Nikki Giovanni is one of America’s foremost poets.

She once said, “We write because we believe the human spirit cannot be tamed and should not be trained.”

On Feb. 22, she’ll be at Emory’s Schwartz Center.

“City Lights” host Lois Reitzes spoke with her earlier this week about her life, poetry and influences.

Her breakout hit was a collection of poetry called “Black Feeling, Black Talk, Black Judgement.” The works first emerged from the civil rights movement in the 1960s, which launched her career as a celebrated and controversial poet. She fearlessly writes about America’s political and poetic landscape.

Throughout all of her poetry are recurring themes of family, food and people who have influenced her life — from her mother and grandmother to actress Ruby Dee and poet Maya Angelou.

She’s also won several awards, including the Langston Hughes Medal for Outstanding Poetry.

Giovanni has had a lifelong fascination with space and has compared space travel with the middle passage – the sea voyage that slave ships took from West Africa to the colonies.

“Our African ancestors kidnapped and sold us because of wars. They sold us to our European ancestors and in between here and there they’re going to come across this ocean. In doing that, they do not know where they are going. So they have to find a way to get over. ‘How do I manage to do this and remain sane?’ That’s why you got to love black people so much is because they are going to create another song [to get through it]. We created the spiritual and that’s what got us through. And when we got here, we were able to use that song in order to communicate and talk to each other and say it’s going to be all right” Giovanni said.

She’ll give a free poetry reading at Emory’s Schwartz Center at 4 p.m. Feb. 22.

This story was originally published with audio on

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