Biography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Nikki Giovanni was born Yolande Cornelia Giovanni, Jr., in Knoxville, Tennessee, on June 7, 1943, the younger of two daughters of Gus and Yolande Giovanni. As a child, Giovanni moved with her parents to the black middle-class suburbs of Cincinnati, Ohio, where her mother worked as a supervisor for the Welfare Department and her father worked as a social worker. Some of her most memorable times, however, were the summers she spent back in Knoxville with her maternal grandparents, John Brown and Louvenia Terrell Watson. Many of these experiences figure importantly in some of Giovanni’s poems, most notably “Knoxville, Tennessee” (1969).
As a young girl, Giovanni began to display certain traits that would characterize her and her poetry after she became an adult—brashness, assertiveness, and outspokenness among them. These traits can perhaps be seen most clearly in Giovanni’s fierce determination to protect her older sister, Gary, whom she idolized. Furthermore, these traits may have been inherited from, or at least encouraged by, her grandmother, Louvenia Watson, herself assertive and outspoken, as one learns in Giovanni’s autobiographical statement, Gemini: An Extended Autobiographical Statement on My First Twenty-five Years of Being a Black Poet (1971). As Giovanni grew older, these traits merged into the one which brought her to the attention of both the literary world and the political establishment during the 1960’s: militance.
Upon graduating from high school in 1960, Giovanni entered Fisk University, a historically black college located in Nashville, Tennessee, but was dismissed from the school in February, 1961, because her attitude was not consistent with that expected of Fisk women. She returned to Fisk in 1964, where she excelled as a scholar, became active in student literary circles, and became involved in campus politics, soon establishing at Fisk a chapter of the SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee), a prominent organization in the Civil Rights movement. This was the first display of the revolutionary spirit for which she would become well known in the following years.
Also at Fisk, Giovanni became editor of Élan, the campus literary publication, and participated in the Fisk Writers’ Workshop. This workshop for younger writers was directed by John Oliver Killens, an important African American novelist and critic. Through such activities, Giovanni began to develop her feelings and talents as a poet of intense sensitivity. Further, her interest in the various struggles of black people for social, political, cultural, and economic liberation became much more pronounced.
Giovanni graduated from Fisk magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in history during the winter commencement exercises held in early February, 1967. Following graduation she returned to Cincinnati but within a few weeks received the news of her beloved grandmother’s death in Knoxville. This event profoundly affected Giovanni, immediately making her ill and also triggering a more far-reaching and longer-lasting anger that would characterize the majority of her early poetry.
From her grandmother’s death, Giovanni became more aware of the plight of powerless people in the United States. Her grandmother had been forced to move from her home at 400 Mulvaney Street when an urban renewal project relocated her neighborhood to make way for...
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Biography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Giovanni has been aptly called a child of the 1960’s and a woman of the 1970’s; however, the most frequent title bestowed upon her is the Princess of Black Poetry. From articulating concerns of the black liberation movement to championing the individual, Giovanni has emerged as a keen interpreter of modern times.
When Nikki Giovanni began, in journal publications and readings, to appear on the literary scene in the late 1960’s, she was hailed as one of its most noted black poets. Critics praised her work for its themes of militancy, black pride, and revolution. The majority of poems in her volumes, however, address themes such as love, family, and friendship. Her militant poems received more attention, however, and they reflected Giovanni’s own activism. It is then, arguably, not accurate when critics argue that Giovanni abandoned the cause of black militancy when, in the 1970’s, her poems became more personal. The change was not as marked as some believed.
Giovanni’s work took on a different perspective in 1970, when she became a mother. That year she published Re:Creation, whose themes are black female identity and motherhood. In My House, Giovanni more clearly addresses issues of family, love, and a twofold perspective on life, which is revealed in the two divisions of the book. With poems about the “inside” and “outside,” Giovanni acknowledges the importance of not only the personal but also the world at large. Another dimension of this two-part unity is seen in The Women and the Men. Giovanni’s poetry, over time, also seems to have undergone another change—an increased awareness of the outside world. Giovanni’s poetry since 1978 reflects her interest in the human condition. The poems become more meditative, more /introspective, and eventually more hopeful as they focus upon life’s realities. Examined as a whole, Giovanni’s work reveals concerns for identity, self-exploration, and self-realization. These concerns also appear in her works of other genres: recorded poetry, read to music; children’s poetry, which she wrote to present positive images to black children; and essays. Giovanni’s most consistent theme is the continual, evolving exploration of personal identity and individualism amid familial, social, and political realities.
Biography (The Sixties in America)
Born in Knoxville, Tennessee, Yolande Cornelia “Nikki” Giovanni and her family moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, when she was still an infant. Because her grandparents remained in Knoxville, she spent short periods there during her formative years and considered Knoxville her home. As a teenager, she returned to Knoxville to live with her grandparents and attended Austin High School. She was heavily influenced both socially and intellectually by her grandmother and her high school English teacher. Because of their efforts, Giovanni entered Fisk University in 1960 at age sixteen.
Giovanni proved to be a serious student with strong political views, concentrating on writing and politics. At Fisk, she met and worked with novelist and writer-in-residence John O. Killens, a leader of the Black Arts movement. In addition to editing the university literary publication, she helped reinstate the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, which had earlier been banned.
After earning her degree in 1966, she returned to Cincinnati, where she wrote many of the poems for her first published collection, Black Feeling, Black Talk (1968). At this time, Giovanni edited Conversation, a local publication, and organized the first Black Arts Festival in Cincinnati. Following the successful festival, Giovanni became acquainted with leaders of several important movements within the African American community. She did not always agree with them, however, especially concerning violence, and often became embroiled in controversy.
Giovanni published her second volume of poems, Black Judgement, in 1969, with financial assistance from the Harlem Council of the Arts. By this time, she had become firmly entrenched as a poet and voice of the ordinary African Americans of the urban areas of the United States.
Giovanni has remained a controversial figure. Although she gained a level of popularity...
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Biography (Critical Survey of Poetry: American Poets)
Nikki Giovanni was born Yolande Cornelia Giovanni in Knoxville, Tennessee, but grew up in Wyoming and Lincoln Heights, Ohio, suburbs of Cincinnati, where she made her home. She described her childhood as “quite happy” in the poem “Nikki-Rosa,” and her reminiscences in Gemini testify to her devotion to relatives, especially her sister Gary (who nicknamed her “Nikki”) and her grandparents, John Brown Watson, one of the first graduates of Fisk University, and his wife, Louvenia, whose strength of character she admired and emulated. Giovanni herself entered Fisk at the age of sixteen and was graduated magna cum laude in 1967 with a bachelor of arts degree in history. At Fisk, her independent spirit led to her being...
(The entire section is 710 words.)
Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
Yolande Cornelia “Nikki” Giovanni (jee-oh-VAH-nee) has been nicknamed the “princess of Black Poetry” because of her literary achievement as well as her Civil Rights activism and the artistic renaissance that grew out of the youthful, militant dimension of 1960’s protest. Her early career illustrates the close connection between Black Power politics and a radical black presence in the arts.
Giovanni is the daughter of Jones (Gus) and Yolande Cornelia Watson Giovanni, two social workers who met while attending Knoxville College. Her grandparents, John Brown (Book) and Louvenia Terrell Watson, helped to...
(The entire section is 894 words.)