|"Bicycles: because love requires trust and balance."|
Nikki Giovanni is an author, commentator, activist, educator, and one of the world's most well known African-American poets. She has written over thirty books and received dozens of awards and honors. She currently is the University Distinguished Professor of English at Virginia Polytechnic University in Blacksburg, Virginia.
I had the privilege of hearing her speak at the 21st annual Writer's Symposium at Point Loma Nazarene University on February 18. She received a warm welcome as she entered the stage with a lively gait, warm smile, and colorful-red-plaid jacket.
She started the evening by reading her poetry (without punctuation or pause) which was followed by a lively conversation conducted by symposium founder and PLNU journalism director, Dean Nelson. She always advises her students to say something that people don't expect them to say, and that is exactly what she did in this interview. She did it with the humor and wisdom that only a 72-year-old woman who is content with where she's at, and has lived her life in love, could do.
Here are some of my favorite quotes:
“It's better to take a chance and be wrong than to be safe and dull.”
“Tell your story as you see it.”
“Write in love.”
“Make the stage work for you.”
“I recommend being black.”
“I highly recommend old age: it's fun.”
“I keep trying to learn something new, so that I can share what I'm learning.” (My favorite.)
When asked why she doesn't use punctuation when writing her poetry, she said, “she assumes her readers are intelligent, and it is to be read as they understand it.”
“Send notes to let people know you care about them. (How else will they know?)”
“If I were advising anyone: Write—the deal is you have to write.”
“Read something everyday. I do.”
“I am a dreamer and a storyteller.”
“Remember that everyone is not always going to love you.”
“I'm not trying to tell people what to do or what to think or none of that. I'm not a leader, I'm not a guru. I'm just a poet looking at the world.”
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Travel was not one of the topics; however, she did share that she has the gift of falling asleep easily on long airplane journeys. (I'm jealous of that trait.) She also said that her favorite city is New York, where she used to live, and would live again if she could afford it. She loves to walk and misses her long walks in the city. One more thing: always first class to Hong Kong or Singapore. (It's a 20 hour flight.)
I also found it interesting that she has volunteered at Warm Hearth Village Retirement Community in Virginia for twelve years. Her writing class wrote and published three books during that time. The students described Giovanni as warm and supportive, her criticism constructive and gentle.
Thank you, Nikki Giovanni, for traveling across the country to share your life and thoughts with us. It was truly an inspirational and unforgettable evening.
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Videos of previous Writers Symposiums are available online at UCSD TV—2016 will be viewable in approximately one month.