Poet Nikki Giovanni Will Speak At Point Loma Writer's Symposium
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February 17, 2016 1:15 p.m.
Why The 'Poet Of The Black Revolution' Thinks 'We Did Not Get A Leader' In Obama
Nikki Giovanni, poet
This is KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. One of America pot -- America's favorite poets will be speaking this week. She will be speaking at Point Loma Writer Symposium Thursday night. Nikki Giovanni has been documenting the black revolution since the civil rights movement of the 1960s. She has traced the progress and challenges facing black Americans. In recent years many have her poems have turned more personal. Nikki Giovanni thanks for being with us today.
It is my pleasure.
Whitey think poetry does better than anything else.
I think poetry soothes us better than anything else. It is what we read when we get married and when we are being buried. It is what we read when we fall in love and what the right when we are angry with people.
Argued the kind of writer who writes every day?
Know and I do not even recommend it. I think you should read something and learn something every day. I'm a big comic strip fan. On the days I don't get my newspaper I'm upset because I have to know what "Zits" is doing . You can't write every day because you don't have something to say every day but you should read every day.
Sailed you only write when you're inspired?
Not necessarily inspired because I think that's becoming a bad word. I write when I have something to say or I am reacting to something.
You're a professor at Virginia pack. You're in an environment with young hopeful writers. What does that do for your own work?
I think it's nice. This semester I have a great class. I think I'm going to miss teaching when I do retire and I'm getting to the age that I need to start thinking about that. I enjoy being around kids. I enjoy the routine of coming to see them. I'm teaching one evening class. We've had bad weather here but in the good days it's a pleasure to go and talk with them for three hours.
Now Nikki Giovanni you spent your youth writing and fighting for civil rights for black Americans. How do you think that struggle is different now than it was back then?
We do not have a race struggle in the old sense of colored only or white only. But we do have a real question of who gets to control whose body. That is actually going back to slavery. Who controls your body? I think it's a major, major question. I must say and I don't know if you can keep this or not, but I was delighted that Scalia has passed because he had such a concept that he should be in control of someone's body. Like he didn't like abortion so I didn't get one. It's none of his business what I do with my body . It none of his business whether I'm straight or gay or black or white. I have a right to my life and that is what America is supposed to stand for.
So freedom now is more personal?
I think it is, don't you?
When President Barack Obama was elected, so many people were saying that this was the end of the racial divide in America or at least it was the dawning of a new day for America. And now recent polls including a large majority of African Americans, think race relations are worse now than when Barack Obama again President. How do you think that happened? Doesn't that show that there still something to do beyond the personal?
Perhaps. I just wrote a line it's a longer poem so I recited. But the line said "we hang our heads at the timidity of Barack Obama" and I think we elected Barack Obama to lead and he is not on that. I think Barack wanted to be President but didn't want to step out and say "this is what we need to do." And he didn't take us anyplace that we drifted back, don't you think? And now he's beginning to say he should stand up but now he is leaving office. He should've been doing these things the first year in office. I think we elected him to lead and I don't think we got a leader.
You just said some pretty provocative things about Antonin Scalia and Barack Obama, so I have this question for you. How political would you say you are these days Nikki Giovanni?
I'm not political. I'm just an old lady trying to look at the world .
You definitely keep up though. You are looking at it pretty strongly there.
Will anybody that reads "Zits" everyday probably reads the front page 2.
When you think about the presidential race?
I have the perfect candidate. Me. I'm voting for myself. I'm writing my name in.
What is your platform?
That's my platform. Both for rate, and I'll set you free. [Laughter]
What is your latest poem about.
It is called "a good cry" because of the various said Mrs. that have happened. I have lost a lot of people. I them at the age where I know many more people who have passed. And I think a lot of it is about women and that is what I am exploring. I don't cry. I get things done. My mother died 10 years ago on June 24 and my sister three weeks after that. Then my aunt died on 29 October and my dog on 10 December. So I didn't have time to cry. In dealing with that I got things done. Then I started to think that women don't cry. In the movies they show women crying but I don't think in real life we do. I think in real life we get it done. We bake the bread get them buried sell the house, do what we have to do. So I am exploring what it means to more -- morning -- mourn. And have a good cry.
You have had many accolades for your speaking forms. Including with Oprah Winfrey how does that feel?
It feels good. You have to feel delighted in that. Opera was nice to my mother and my out, a good friend of Oprah, was always nice to mommy. So it was always quite pleasurable. It doesn't make the anything. It just says this is what was an idea pleased with it. The last time we were together was when my a stamp, Michelle Obama and all of us were here -- together in DC. It is very strange to realize when I was growing up there were three or four black people in American stamps. And now I am looking at 38 stamps. Unfortunately for me I know these people and they were friends. [Laughter] So I'm getting to be a little worried about it.
You referenced Maja Angelo and she has passed away. A great writer of poetry. A writer of your generation. When you look at these people who have passed away and made this contribution, do you want to encapsulate that and hold onto it to give it to the next generation?
I will urge them to read. The next generation to read. And they were friends. In many respects people like me though them in different ways. I do Mrs. Parks in a different way than from how other people knew her in Montgomery. And I know Maja, who thought she was a good cook. She wasn't a bad cook but I could the best brick of lamb taste rack of lamb. So I would take it down to her and we would laugh at that. so some of the things I know about people in some of the things they know about me will be shared as time goes on. That we know each other as human the.
I saw an interview where you said you would like to visit Mars.
You think part of the problem in life is that we think too small and we should think bigger?
I think we need to think about space because that is our next visit. I was just talking with some people and I wrote a piece and pointed out that a black woman has to go to Mars because she will be friendly and will probably make with whatever life form is there and whatever she births will be a jubilation. When the black woman came to America she was forced to make or mated, nonetheless, that which came out of her body was that which was unknown before.
Indeed. And you are serious about space, though.
Yes. For Sure. I can't go. I've been talking to the head of NASA about it. I can't go because I used to smoke. I tell teenagers not to smoke. And I ended up with lung cancer. I had a great surgeon who took my left one out and saved my life. But I can go into space but I cannot come back because your organs move around. Coming back into gravity I would stand a chance of my stomach moving over to where my left lung used to be and it would kill me. I am trying to make a deal with NASA and we laughed about it. People in my family lived in their late 80s or early 90s. If I do I think they should let me go into space. I'm going to die anyway. And when I die just open the hatch and let me float around there so kids can look at me. [Laughter]
I have a feeling about what you will be talking to the kids about at Point Loma Writer Symposium. What other message you want to bring to the students?
Life is a good idea and you have to live your own. We live our lives through love and happiness and laughter. I think that is the most important thing you do for your self. Stay sane.
I have been speaking with public Nikki Giovanni. Thank you so much.
Thank you. Take care.