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  • Louis Venters

A Virtual Evening with Nikki Giovanni: Conversation with a Legend

It was a real pleasure to serve as moderator for a live virtual Q and A session with the distinguished poet, essayist, and educator, Professor Nikki Giovanni of Virginia Tech. For those not familiar with her and her substantial body of work, she was a leading light of the Black Arts Movement, the African American creative outpouring of the late 1960s and 1970s that celebrated Black beauty and independence, publishing her first two collections of poetry in 1968. In the decades since she has published dozens of collections of poetry, essays, and criticism, children’s books, and mixed-media works and won countless awards and distinctions for her teaching, writing, and activism.

The Friends of the Florence County Library had planned to bring Ms. Giovanni to speak in person, but due to the persistent uncertainties of the pandemic it was decided that she would share a prerecorded presentation followed by a live discussion via Zoom, both available on the Library's website here.

I was honored--and not a little bit star-struck--when the staff at the Library asked me to moderate the discussion. As I mention in the recording, I believe I first read one of Nikki Giovanni’s poem’s, “Ego-tripping,” in middle or high school. I teach the Black Arts Movement as a professor and have tried to convey her stature and influence to students. But I never imagined having a conversation with her! How could I share a stage with this respected elder and larger-than-life figure, who interviewed James Baldwin and Muhammad Ali, who counted Maya Angelou and Toni Morrison as friends?

Well, it turns out I had nothing to fear. Ms. Giovanni was a real pleasure to work with, and there were no shortage of stimulating questions from the virtual audience, which was sizable and diverse. We talked for an hour, and I wish we could have kept going!

My thanks again to the Friends of the Library and to the staff for offering me this opportunity and coordinating the event with such aplomb, to all the participants, and above all to Ms. Giovanni, who gave so generously of her time and experience. As I said in closing the event, her work over many decades is such a testimony to the interdependence of humanity and the beauty and dignity of each individual, the power of words, and the indispensability of knowledge and striving. I hope you enjoy our time together as much as I did!


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