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

Nikki Giovanni


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

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.

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...

(The entire section is 496 words.)


(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

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 which discuss aspects of Giovanni’s life. Readers learn something of Giovanni’s life, but Gemini reveals more of her ideas. All of the essays involve personal observations mingled with political concerns, as the final lines of the essay “400 Mulvaney Street” illustrate: “They had come to say Welcome Home. And I thought Tommy, my son, must know about this. He must know we come from somewhere. That we belong.” These lines are a capsule of Giovanni’s major themes: family and belonging, identity, and one’s relationship to the world. As the people of Knoxville come to hear her, Giovanni realizes her connection to a place and people. Sharing this with her son underscores the importance of family and passing on legacies, a lesson for not only him but also all blacks. To know that they come from somewhere and therefore belong is part of the message in this work.

The central message in Gemini is love. Giovanni claims, “If you don’t love your mama and papa then you don’t love yourself.” This includes racial love; Giovanni provides tributes to black writer Charles Waddell Chesnutt and to black musicians Lena Horne and Aretha Franklin. Giovanni states that black people “must become the critics and protectors” of black music and literature. Love of oneself leads to a sense of identity: This is Giovanni’s second message.

Giovanni cautions blacks against carelessly adopting “white philosophies.” Her advice is to “know who’s playing the music before you dance.” Giovanni discusses respect as an outgrowth of love and identity, particularly for blacks of other nationalities and for the elderly. In Giovanni’s discussion of the black revolution, she emphasizes the need to change the world. She addresses what one should be willing to live for: hope to change the world or some aspect of it. The essays of Gemini combine to give readers a sense of Giovanni, her world, and their world.