Gemini: An Extended Autobiographical Statement on My First Twenty-five Years of Being a Black Poet Critical Context (Masterplots II: African American Literature) - Essay

Nikki Giovanni

Critical Context (Masterplots II: African American Literature)

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Although Gemini received a National Book Award nomination, reviews of it were mixed, primarily because of its combination of autobiography and manifesto. Most critics praised the autobiographical sections as witty and engaging but criticized the militant rhetoric in the other sections as foolish, boring, or abstract. Gemini presents Giovanni at an important stage in her life and in her work. Her early poetry collections, such as Black Feeling, Black Talk and Black Judgement, contain in poetic form some of the militant ideas found in Gemini, while her later collections, such as My House (1972) and The Women and the Men (1975), focus on the more personal moments that are recorded in the autobiographical sections. Thus Gemini both explains her militancy and indicates her interest in more universal themes—the need to belong, to have a home, to love, and to be loved—that appear in the later collections.

On a broader scale, Giovanni, in voicing her own concerns, also voiced the concerns of many African Americans in the early 1970’s. The 1960’s saw the beginning of the Civil Rights movement, a heady time in which the hopes and aspirations of African Americans were raised only to be dashed by resistance that was sometimes subtle but often not. The realization came to many African Americans, as it did to Giovanni, that the only way to achieve equal rights and to have equal opportunity was to fight, responding to violence with violence. In Gemini, she gives expression to frustration and issues a call to revolution.

Gemini can also be placed in the context of the black-is-beautiful movement. Giovanni and other black leaders of the 1960’s promoted black pride. As she has written elsewhere, “We must . . . rediscover that we are Black and beautiful and proud and intelligent.” To that end, Gemini contains tributes to various black political leaders such as Angela Davis and to artists such as Lena Horne and Charles Chesnutt. Giovanni’s goal is to contribute to building a strong black community.