Nikki Giovanni

American poet, writer and activist

Nikki Giovanni (June 7, 1943) is an American poet, writer, commentator, activist, and educator.

Giovanni in 2008


  • Poetry is the culture of a people. We are poets even when we don’t write poems; just look at our life, our rhythms, our tenderness, our signifying, our sermons and our songs.
    • Gemini: An Extended Autobiographical Statement on My First Twenty-five Years of Being a Black Poet. Penguin Books. 1976. p. 95. ISBN 978-0-14-004264-1. 
  • History is wonderful. We have so much we can learn if we would quit making ideology out of history, and just deal with what happened…
  • Politics is personal. That, however, doesn’t mean it’s ideological. It means that one cares about what she or he is doing, what he or she is writing…
  • As a writer, one has to be willing to be wrong, willing to make mistakes. I’ve put everything on the table and accepted the fact that I may come up short. And, if (or when) I do, that’s okay.
  • Poets shouldn't commit suicide. That would leave the world to those without imaginations or hearts. That would bequeath to the world a mangled syntax and no love of champagne. Poets must live in misery and ecstasy, to sing a song with the katydids. Poets should be ashamed to die before they kiss the sun.
  • You have to read the poem and say, “My god, that’s a good poem,” and kind of smile at yourself. If you’re not willing to do that, then you’re wasting your time, and you’re hurting yourself in another way because you’re trying to please somebody who doesn’t like you. You don’t want to get in that position.

Quotes about Nikki Giovanni

  • At the library I would go the shelves alphabetically. I was drawn to anyone with a female name, with a Latino or Spanish name. There were very, very few. But as a teenager I discovered African American poetry. Gwendolyn Brooks was the first. Then Phillis Wheatley. I really identified with this slave woman writing poetry to assert and affirm her humanity. Suddenly my eyes were open to history. There was a whole explosion of African-American women poets-Audre Lorde, Nikki Giovanni, June Jordan. I have a poem in my head that's going to take me years to write down. Its working title is "On Thanking Black Muses." I owe them, because poetry really changed my life, saved it.
  • (At National Black Theater performance) I was in awe of the words I witnessed that day. It was the first time that I heard the works of writers like Gwendolyn Brooks, Nikki Giovanni, Langston Hughes, Amiri Baraka. I heard poetry that was about me, that was very immediate. I connected to it in a visceral way. That experience moved me so profoundly that I went home and that night I wrote my first batch of poems. It was like the floodgates opened. That reading empowered me with a voice and gave me permission to express everything that had been festering in me for years. So I just started experimenting with language and writing all kinds of things.
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