Nikki Giovanni, born Yolande Cornelia Giovanni, Jr., in 1943 in Knoxville, Tennessee, her family moved to Lincoln Heights when she was quite young. In 1948, the family moved to Wyoming, and in those first three years, Giovanni’s sister began calling her “Nikki” – the name by which she is known around the world.
Nikki Giovanni returned to Knoxville to live with her grandparents in 1958 and soon dropped out of high school. A few years later, she learned of an “early entrant” program at her grandfather’s alma mater, Fisk University, which enabled her to enroll in college without finishing high school.
After clashing with the Dean of Women, Giovanni went back to Knoxville and worked at Walgreens. In 1964, she spoke with the new Dean of Women at Fisk University, who urged her to return to the school that fall. While in college, Giovanni edited the student literary journal, reinstated the campus chapter of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, and published an essay in Negro Digest on gender questions in the Movement.
In 1967, Giovanni graduated with honors from Fisk University with a B.A. degree in history, organized the first African American arts festival in Cincinnati, and wrote her first book of poetry, Black Feeling, Black Talk, to cope with her grandmother’s death.
As one of the foremost authors of the Black Arts Movement and influenced by the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements, her early work provides a strong, militant African-American perspective. One writer dubbed her the “Poet of the Black Revolution.”
Giovanni became a mother in 1969. She began writing children’s literature and co-founded a publishing company for other African-American women writers. Over subsequent decades, her works included poetry anthologies and nonfiction essays covering topics ranging from social issues to human relationships to hip hop.
Giovanni has taught at Queens College, Rutgers, and Ohio State. She was a professor of creative writing at the College of Mount St. Joseph from 1985 to 1987 and has since taught at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. In the early 1990s, Giovanni was diagnosed with lung cancer, a battle documented in Blues: For All the Changes: New Poems.
The award-winning poet was nominated for a Grammy Award for her poetry album, The Nikki Giovanni Poetry Collection, and has received more than 20 honorary doctorate degrees. She is a member of the Order of the Eastern Star, the National Council of Negro Women and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.
Nikki Giovanni | African American Resources | Cincinnati History Library and Archives (cincymuseum.org)
Conservative Cincinnati and Its Outspoken Women Writers (cincymuseum.org)
Nikki Giovanni – Wikipedia
The First 28, graciously sponsored by the Greater Cincinnati Foundation, celebrates Black Cincinnatians who were the first in their fields. Each day during Black History Month, we will celebrate athletes, artists, business leaders, civil rights activists, educators, physicians and politicians.
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