Nikki Giovanni Essay - Giovanni, Nikki (Vol. 2)

Giovanni, Nikki (Vol. 2)

Giovanni, Nikki 1943–

Miss Giovanni is a Black American poet and author of the autobiographical Gemini.

At 28, [Nikki Giovanni] is one of the most talented and promising black poets. She is also one of the most visible, not only because she is beautiful but because she is a shrewd and energetic propagandist. In this interim autobiography [Gemini], both poet and propagandist underscore that point about black love and happiness. Part memoir and part manifesto, it is a plain-spoken, lively, provocative, confusing book….

Hers is a committed social rage. She is capable of scalding rhetoric, but the artist in her keeps interrupting. For one thing, she is a natural fabulist. A tirade on colonialism turns into a series of irresistible parables about the wise and natural black man faced with the petty, scheming honky. Also, she cares too much about language not to kid her own fire breathing, at least occasionally….

She keeps sending out bulletins—in poetry, prose, children's books—whether they are neat or messy, rash or reasoned. But one senses a dynamic intelligence behind the shrillest page of Gemini. It is a report about a life in progress that demands to be seen.

Martha Duffy, "Hustler and Fabulist," in Time (reprinted by permission from Time, The Weekly Newsmagazine; © 1972 by Time Inc.), January 17, 1972, pp. 63-4.

[Nikki Giovanni] probably is the busiest poet in America…. Nikki, the poet, has become a personality, a star.

Nikki's poetry is about what she sees, what she feels and experiences [and she often deals in her poems with her own happy childhood and with her family]…. Besides dealing with her childhood, Nikki's poetry and essays deal also with, among other things, the black liberation movement, revolution, love among all black people and between individual black man and black woman, Angela Davis (who, Nikki feels, is being "used" by communists), and rhythm and blues music (which is her favorite kind) and its interpreters, most notably Aretha Franklin, who, Nikki says, "flips me out!" Nikki's language ranges from angry to bitter to sensuous to melancholy to joyful….

Like it or not—and some people don't like it—she has become a cultural force to be dealt with. She's a much-anthologized poet and she's a lecturer who commands a vast audience among, in her words, "college students and prison inmates."…

There are black artists—those in what is called "the black power literary establishment"—who are convinced that Nikki's emergence as a "star" will hinder her development as a black poet….

Nikki's attitude on many issues is better understood when one realizes that one of the people whose philosophy she admires most is Ayn Rand whose concept of rational self-interest and extreme individualism is so way-out that even arch-conservatives of the William Buckley ilk reject its implications….

Nikki has an ego, a super one, [and] … considers herself a good poetess…. Her critics, of course, think she is an ego-tripper in the negative sense and say that, if she doesn't watch it, she'll end up as a case of too much too soon.

Peter Bailey, "Nikki Giovanni: 'I Am Black, Female, Polite…'," in Ebony, February, 1972, p. 49ff.

Well, [Gemini,] this "extended autobiographical statement" by Nikki Giovanni is not an autobiography. It may therefore disappoint many among her plentiful followers who will buy a copy, hoping to find out about their poet…. Still, it is an entertaining collection of mostly high-spirited raps. Its interest is guaranteed by Miss Giovanni's status as a leading black poet and celebrity.

June Jordan, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1972 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), February 13, 1972, p. 6.