Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces Gemini Analysis

From her perspective as a nationally celebrated black activist, poet, scholar, teacher, and artistic promoter, Nikki Giovanni addresses issues of history, art, and politics important not only to Giovanni the individual but also to Giovanni the poet, the voice of her people, the transmitter of a common heritage. Her voice is also the voice of black America, of the black woman, and of American youth in the middle of the twentieth century. In the style and tone of the work, she attempts to mediate between the experiences of these groups and society, as is characteristic of her poetry.

Giovanni’s energy is displayed throughout Gemini. Her passion about each topic makes every chapter autobiographical, even the topical essays. Her tone shifts from triumphant to compassionate, to interjections of shock. Her sense of irony is never completely lost, nor is her sense of humor, even in unexpected places such as the hospital ward following her cesarean.

As a poet Giovanni is careful about language and usage, although she appears reckless. Shifting between precision and freewheeling association, she mixes standard English with contemporary slang, rapping, jive, black English, Southern colloquialisms, and vulgarisms in ways that can be playful, natural, or shocking. The language enlivens the work with wit, and her rhetorical antics engage the reader although slang sometimes dates them. Her dissatisfaction with cliches is suggestive of her poetry.

Sentences loaded with allusions reveal wide reading and involvement in the action behind contemporary headlines. Her puns, rich with ambiguity, are transformed into expressions of revolution and black identity. For example, Giovanni considers being “a cymbal for our people,” injecting an uncomfortable clash into the pomposity of “symbol,” while her coinage of “huemanity” is both a reference to blackness and Giovanni’s basis for interpreting the human condition.

The formative stages of a personal aesthetic appear in brief theoretical insights throughout both halves of Gemini. Thus far, her theory is an amalgamation of lessons learned from family, formal and informal study, and a personal search through the works of black American writers for models.

Her discussions of literature re-create the pleasure of developing reading habits and rigorously evaluate works lacking an authentic black voice. The teacher and literary critic reveal themselves particularly in the chapter on Charles Chesnutt. This discussion explains how the authentic voice is created: Chesnutt’s blending of black folklore and...

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