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Nikki Giovanni
Nikki Giovanni, photo by Robin Holland
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February 13, 2009

Bill Moyers sits down with renowned poet Nikki Giovanni, author of 27 books, a Grammy nominee and an Oprah Living Legend. Once dubbed the priestess of black poetry, her work has spanned the themes of love and sex, anger and grief, race, politics, and violence, and in this intimate conversation with Bill Moyers, Giovanni discusses her most recent book: BICYCLES. While many of her earlier works may have raised ire (and praise) for their revolutionary nature, she's always tackled the theme of love.

"There are a lot of books of searching, somber books born of grief. But not many books I've seen that are about love born of grief. And, yet, that's what this book is about. It's a book of love poems," says Giovanni.

The author of some 30 books for both adults and children, Nikki Giovanni is a University Distinguished Professor at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia.

Biography
Nikki Giovanni is a world-renowned poet, writer, commentator, activist and educator. Over the past thirty years, her outspokenness, in her writing and in lectures, has brought the eyes of the world upon her. One of the most widely-read American poets, she prides herself on being "a Black American, a daughter, a mother, a professor of English."

Nikki Giovanni was born in Knoxville, Tennessee, and grew up in Lincoln Heights, an all-black suburb of Cincinnati, Ohio. She and her sister spent their summers with their grandparents in Knoxville, and she graduated with honors from Fisk University, her grandfather's alma mater, in 1968; after graduating from Fisk, she attended the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University. She published her first book of poetry, BLACK FEELING BLACK TALK, in 1968, and within the next year published a second book, thus launching her career as a writer. Early in her career she was dubbed the "Princess of Black Poetry," and over the course of more than three decades of publishing and lecturing she has come to be called both a "National Treasure" and, most recently, one of Oprah Winfrey's twenty-five "Living Legends."

Many of Giovanni's books have received honors and awards. Her autobiography, GEMINI, was a finalist for the National Book Award; LOVE POEMS, BLUES: FOR ALL THE CHANGES, and QUILTING THE BLACK-EYED PEA were all honored with NAACP Image Awards. BLUES: FOR ALL THE CHANGES reached #4 on the Los Angeles Times Bestseller list, a rare achievement for a book of poems. Most recently, her children's picture book ROSA, about the civil rights legend Rosa Parks, became a Caldecott Honors Book, and Bryan Collier, the illustrator, was given the Coretta Scott King award for best illustration.

Giovanni's spoken word recordings have also achieved widespread recognition and honors. Her album TRUTH IS ON ITS WAY, on which she reads her poetry against a background of gospel music, was a top 100 album and received the Best Spoken Word Album given by the National Association of Radio and Television Announcers. Her NIKKI GIOVANNI POETRY COLLECTION, on which she reads and talks about her poetry, was one of five finalists for a Grammy Award.

The recipient of some twenty-five honorary degrees, Giovanni has been named Woman of the Year by MADEMOISELLE Magazine, THE LADIES HOME JOURNAL, and EBONY Magazine. Giovanni has also received Governor's Awards from both Tennessee and Virginia. She was the first recipient of the Rosa L. Parks Woman of Courage Award, and she has also been awarded the Langston Hughes Medal for poetry. Published February 13, 2009.

Guest photo by Robin Holland.

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Guest photos by Robin Holland

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Bill Moyers sits down with renowned poet Nikki Giovanni, whose 27 books have spanned the themes of race, politics, sex and violence.

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View a photo essay of words and images from Nikki Giovanni's eventful life.

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