Sacred Cows and Other Edibles

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

A reader of this difficult-to-classify assortment might at first think that the principal topic of the book is humor. In a column in which Nikki Giovanni mulls over a race for the Cincinnati City Council, she proposes annexing Northern Kentucky and the Jack Nicklaus Sports Complex. A mock-serious piece warns that handicapped parking spaces may engender a new wave of segregation: Are “white” and “colored” wheelchair zones in the offing?

This book, however, aims at much more than inducing a few chuckles. The author has endured much hardship in her life, and several of her columns portray both her sorrow and her ability to take life as it comes. She describes with moving economy of tone the death of her father from cancer, in the midst of her despair she marvels at the maturity with which her twelve-year-old son responds to his grandfather’s passing.

Giovanni’s comments are by no means limited to personal events. She participated actively in the Civil Rights movement, and feminist issues concern her greatly. One can vividly sense the anger she feels over the exploitation of women in pornography. Even on social issues, however, her touch of whimsical humor is rarely absent.

The author is a well-known poet, and her view of the ways in which life and literature relate to each other is yet another of her themes. She strongly opposes a formalist position that regards poetry as a world apart. To her, writing is a way of dealing with life. Although she acknowledges that many of her poems have been occasioned by rage at injustice, her overall outlook is one of accepting life, rather than bemoaning fate. Giovanni is a genuine original; whether she is discussing seat belts or Bob Dylan, she always has some fresh angle to explore.