2/17/2023 | Emily Freeman

Nikki Giovanni

Nikki Giovanni is an award winning writer. Her extensive work includes books and poetry for all ages. Whether she’s writing poems about riding rainbows or bringing light to the Black Arts Movement, she speaks truth to moments. If that was not enough, her work sits squarely at the intersection of art and activism. Her poems are filled with stunning imagery all while exploring race, gender, sexuality, and family. She’s dedicated herself to advocating for Black artists and writers, and more specifically, Black female artists. 

Giovanni was born in Knoxville, Tennessee, on June 7, 1943. Although she grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio, she and her sister returned to Knoxville each summer to visit their grandparents. Nikki graduated with honors in history from Fisk University. She is considered one of the leading writers of the Black Arts Movement, a group of musicians, poets, and playwrights who contributed to the Civil Rights Movement through the power of artistic expression. In her first three collections of poems, Black Feeling, Black Talk (1968), Black Judgement(1968), and Re: Creation (1970), she shares her desire for revolutionary change through Black experiences. Later, becoming a mother impacted her writing as well. From that experience, she authored a collection of poems inspired by childhood. Since 1987, she has been on the faculty at Virginia Tech, where she is a University Distinguished Professor. 

Photo by Steve Helber

Her list of accolades is unparalleled, but some include the following: 

  • Seven NAACP Image Awards: for Love Poems; Blues: For All the Changes; Quilting the Black-Eyed Pea; Acolytes; Hip Hop Speaks to Children; 100 Best African American Poems; Bicycles
  • The Rosa Parks Women of Courage Award, first recipient
  • Grammy Nomination
  • National Book Award Nomination for Gemini
  • 3 New York Times and Los Angeles Times Best Sellers
  • University Distinguished Professor at Virginia Tech

Fun Fact: When you thought Giovanni couldn’t get more interesting, we discovered that she’s even had a species of bat named in her honor (Micronycteris giovanniae)!

A Dreamer

When reflecting on her life, she shared the following, “My dream was to discover something no one else had thought of. I guess that’s why I’m a poet. We put things together in ways no one else does.” Giovanni does just that. She illustrates everyday life in an original and authentic way. Her discoveries are finding joy in a moment others might pass over.

Explore Your Own Inspiration

Let’s explore some of Giovanni’s discoveries. Read through some of the inspirations for her poems.

Winter, Strawberry Patches, Leaves, Wild Flowers, Kisses, Covers, Quilts, Paula the Cat

Now, take a moment and look around you. What are 5 seemingly mundane things you can see from where you are sitting? Pick one and write it down. Brainstorm a list of descriptive words inspired by it. How does it make you feel? What does it look like? What is it used for? 

Write a poem or short story inspired by your chosen thing. Like Nikki Giovanni, what did you discover?

Books for Young People

We encourage you to explore her published works. The list below are her books written for young people. 


Grand Fathers

Hip Hop Speaks to Children

I Am Loved

Knoxville, Tennessee

Lincoln and Douglass


Spin a Soft Black Song

The Genie in The Jar

The Girls in the Circle (Just for You!)

The Grasshopper’s Song

The Sun Is So Quiet

Vacation Time





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