April is National Poetry Month so it would seem appropriate to sing the praise of Nikki Giovanni. The force behind classics such as Ego Tripping, Cotton Candy on A Rainy Day, and I Wrote a Good Omelet earned her place in the poetry pantheon many times over. While her poetry creates and celebrates wonderful what ifs, her prose addresses a world of what is.
The Prosaic Soul of Nikki Giovanni is a collection of essays pulled from three of her non-fiction books. Readers are treated to works from Gemini published when the author was in her mid-20s, Sacred Cows …and Other Edibles and Racism 101 written in the midst of Giovanni’s academic career at Virginia Tech University where she currently serves as a Distinguished Professor.
Readers are taken on a journey of Giovanni’s worldview throughout the selections. The first third of the book deals with Giovanni’s early years growing up in Knoxville, creating a career as one of the voices of the Black Arts Movement, which breathed life during the 1960s, and finding her way in the world as an independent Black woman who found time to be a mother, sister, and daughter. It is easy to see how an individual self-described as a terror at the age of four could evolve into a writer who could wax poetic about Lena Horne and the political impact and statement made by Motown.
Prose tapped from Sacred Cows… and other Edibles represents Giovanni as the professional writer, mother, friend, and citizen who sees the beauty and the pitfalls of living in a world not intended for the success of women, persons of color, or simply anyone that doesn’t fit the status quo. The final third comes from Racism 101 and brings forth the experiences and thoughts of a middle-aged woman who has lived and learned but is still not afraid to take a lesson from the world. After all, the author has a Thug Life tattoo on her arm inspired by Tupac Shakur.
For those unfamiliar with Giovanni as an essayist, the collection is a great introduction. To be fair, the selections in the book span from 1971 to 1994, so some read in contemporary times may seem a little leaden. But taken as a whole, the collection offers a time capsule of a poet/writer/activist who has evolved but still maintains the spark of creativity that lead to so many brilliant works.
Reviewer: La Toya Hankins
La Toya Hankins is the author of SBF Seeking, and K-Rho: The Sweet Taste of Sisterhood. She is a native of North Carolina and currently resides in Durham, NC. Hankins considers writer and fellow Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. member Zora Neale Hurston as her role model for her ability to capture the essence of the African American Southern experience and living the motto, “I don’t weep at the world, I’m too busy sharpening my oyster knife.” You can connect with LaToya on Facebook and Twitter.