Nikki Giovanni offers advice to IU Kokomo writers


On March 21, poet and activist Nikki Giovanni visited us here at Indiana University Kokomo, hosting two speaking events. 

Nikki Giovanni has had a long career starting in the late 1960s in writing poetry and essays that illustrate her thoughts on racial and social issues in America.  

Giovanni has won several awards, including the NAACP Image Award and the Langston Hughes Medal. She was even nominated for a Grammy for best spoken word piece in 2004. 

During her first speech in the Kelley Student Center art room, Giovanni gave staff and students advice on being the best writer they could be with stories about how she learned to be a good writer through experience.  

A piece of advice that Giovanni wants all writers to know is to not let other people dictate how you should write your pieces. She stressed that at the end of the day, you are the one doing the writing, so you should write what makes you happy.  

When she was asked how she knows what poems she knows are going to be great, she stated that during the writing of the poem, she is often able to tell how it will turn out. Sometimes she knows it’s going to be a great poem, but even the ones she feels aren’t as great are just important to get done.  

Giovanni spoke again later that day in Havens Auditorium to a larger crowd. The crowd was even treated to her reading two of her poems as a live performance.  

Giovanni would give more stories from her childhood and how it impacted her worldview as a writer. One such story was about how as she was coming up as a writer, she got into some friendly feuds with fellow author and activist James Baldwin, who she would call “Jimmy” throughout.  

Giovanni would also speak on her views with contemporary pop culture in both of her speeches. These would range from her interest in space travel, our continued understanding of the science of evolution, and even Angela Basset’s performance in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever being snubbed at the Academy Awards this year.  

“She was immensely funny and had such command of the room, but she didn’t veer away from difficult topics of racism and segregation.” said Jim Coby, a professor of English here at IU Kokomo. 

Nikki Giovanni’s poetry and essays are available in a variety of collections that are all available to buy on her website, and they are definitely worth a read.