I was not familiar with Nikki Giovanni’s work prior to sitting in on her recent reading at CSU, Stanislaus, which, after hearing her credentials, surprised me: author of 30-plus books, Grammy Award nominee, world-renowned writer, poet, activist, and distinguished professor at Virginia Tech (to name a few).
Because I am largely terrible at planning, I had scheduled a conference with one of my students right in the middle of the event, and planned only to stay for 20 or 30 minutes. But the event was slow to start due to some trouble with the microphone, so a good 10 minutes of the time I had to be there was gone before the event started. Then, about 10 minutes in, Nikki Giovanni begins with a story, and after a few minutes I was hooked, and left my student hanging, hoping that the student simply wouldn’t show up (they sometimes didn’t).
Giovanni read two poems, but most of the time was spent telling stories, stories of her mother’s death, stories of life on Antarctica, stories about dreaming of Deal or No Deal. They were long stories, wandering, so you’d think that the tether ball had gotten loose from the pole, but then it would swing back around, and you’d see the relationship.
I don’t remember the poems. They were brief, a few minutes at best. But I remember the humor of her stories. The insight that would be crammed next to a seemingly personal or mundane bit about death and Antarctica and Deal or No Deal. I remember the rich humor and the voice of encouragement that she offered to all in the audience, urging them to push through. I remember her advice to not avoid things that make you uncomfortable, and to always have sex with the light on because if you’re going to bother to do it, you shouldn’t pretend that you aren’t, and about taking the third offer from Howie Mandel if you are ever fortunate enough to be a contestant on Deal or No Deal.
It’s good advice. I was glad I had the opportunity to hear it.