Gemini: An Extended Autobiographical Statement on My First Twenty-five Years of Being a Black Poet

by Nikki Giovanni
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Gemini, so titled because of the sign of the zodiac under which Giovanni was born, is subtitled An Extended Autobiographical Statement on My First Twenty-five Years of Being a Black Poet. As such, Gemini is not a strictly chronological autobiography in the usual sense; rather, it is a collection of carefully selected and arranged recollections and observations that helped her develop into the black revolutionary poet that she was at the time of its writing. Published when Giovanni was twenty-eight, most of the pieces had indeed been written several years earlier, when she reflected on having turned twenty-five.

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The book is divided into thirteen sections and covers everything from a history of her grandparents, John Brown and Louvenia Watson, to an appreciation of actress, singer, and black icon Lena Horne to an appraisal of the early black novelist and short-story writer Charles Waddell Chesnutt to a review of a book on black music by black writer Phyll Garland that Giovanni finds severely limited. Through these comments, and especially in the last section, “Gemini—A Prolonged Autobiographical Statement on Why,” Giovanni grapples with various aspects of her thoughts and feelings in an attempt to explain and justify her stance as a revolutionary. She is never apologetic; rather, she speaks her mind very matter-of-factly in the characteristic Giovanni manner.

One important revelation in Gemini is her commitment to preserving family history. This is established in the first section of the book, “400 Mulvaney Street,” a short account of her maternal grandparents with a special emphasis on the grandmother, Louvenia Terrell Watson, herself something of a revolutionary, who influenced Giovanni tremendously. Giovanni intimates later in Gemini that her grandparents migrated to Knoxville, Tennessee, from Georgia to escape the consequences of her grandmother’s outspokenness, but as she reflects on how Mrs. Watson lived and died, Giovanni resolves that “Tommy, my son, must know about this. He must know we come from somewhere. That we belong.”

Another section of Gemini that is especially important is “Don’t Have a Baby till You Read This,” about Giovanni’s decision to have a child without being married and the accompanying responsibilities and adjustments. Family had always been important to Giovanni, and while she concluded that marriage was an unattractive prospect, she did want to experience motherhood—thus the decision to have a child, born Thomas Watson Giovanni in 1969. The numerous adjustments the entire family must make are often comic, but more important, Tommy becomes the absolute central focus of Giovanni’s life and occupies an important station in the larger family as well. Giovanni’s devotion to her son is admirable.

Gemini alternates between superficial observation and whimsical comment on one hand to deep philosophical analysis on the other. Like her poems, though, Gemini contains the same unquestionable sincerity, the same clarity of vision, and the same precision of statement. Most important, Gemini goes a long way toward explaining the revolutionary psyche and simplifying many of the artistic complexities of a fine poet.

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Nikki Giovanni identifies her first work of prose, Gemini, in its subtitle as “an extended autobiographical statement on my first twenty-five years of being a black poet.” Gemini is in a sense neither an autobiography nor an extended statement; rather, it is a collection of thirteen essays, about half of...

(The entire section contains 867 words.)

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