Be True to Your Own Voice

73-year-old professor and poet still enjoys the ‘give-and-take’

Giovanni came to campus as the 2017 MLK SpeakerImage

Words Of Wisdom:
Giovanni came to campus as the 2017 MLK Speaker.

Renowned poet Nikki Giovanni is encouraging college students “to fly and to dream.” She was the keynote speaker at the University’s 2017 celebration of the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. Her inspiring and provocative presentation centered on the theme, “The Right to Dream.”

In an interview prior to her appearance, Giovanni said the internet, blogs and social networking sites are making it easier for today’s young poets to make their poems available for everyone to read. However, she had some words of caution. “The minute you start writing poetry, you know you are not going to make any money,” she said. “I am fortunate that I have had a couple of bestsellers, but you have to be really careful that you don’t have that as your goal, because if that is your goal, you’re going to sell yourself out. You can’t do that. You have to be true to your own voice.”

The best-selling author, activist and educator published her first book of poetry, Black Feeling, Black Talk, almost 50 years ago. She is now the author of more than 30 books, essays, children’s stories and recordings, including the Grammy-nominated spoken word CD, “The Nikki Giovanni Poetry Collection.” She is revered by many hip hop artists who have mentioned her in their songs. “I think that hip hop has done what it’s going to do,” she said. “It opened the door for talented young men and women but the new music is coming. I really hope that I am around to hear the beginning of the new music.”

For the last 30 years, Giovanni has been on the faculty at Virginia Tech, where she is a distinguished professor of English literature. The 73-year-old still enjoys teaching and the routine that comes with it. “I like the kids and the give-and-take with them,” she said. “Without a routine at least for somebody like me, I probably wouldn’t do well.”

She is working on a new book of poems called A Good Cry, in which she explores what it means to mourn.