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 virtually unknown for an African American female poet, Giovanni has endured both professional and personal attacks from people in...
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