Critical Context (Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

In conversation with Margaret Walker in 1979, Nikki Giovanni claimed that she is not the “protagonist” of Gemini: “That’s not my life. . . . I could write about my life from any number of points of view.” This elusiveness and variety apply also to the book. The first way to locate Gemini is through the national political figures encountered in it. Most of them are Giovanni’s compatriots in the black American cause, “Black Power,” considered an outgrowth of Martin Luther King’s nonviolent protests against racial segregation. Giovanni’s maturation parallels public recognition of the black political presence in the United States after World War II and throughout the 1960’s.

A complicated debate over black nationalism divided black intellectuals and artists between young and old, pacifist and militant, during the 1960’s. An illustration is the contrast between approaches to the black experience of the educator Booker T. Washington and the sociologist W.E.B. Du Bois. Du Bois’ influence, along with Civil Rights activism, directed attention to the new black aesthetic, which Giovanni’s poetry helped to shape. Gemini is in part her critical contribution to the discussion of blackness as a source of art.

When Giovanni was a student, the New Criticism had taken over scholarship and criticism in the 1950’s. The New Critics had reacted against the historical approach to literature with rigorous...

(The entire section is 406 words.)