I read Nikki Giovanni’s first book—Black Feeling, Black Talk—when it was published in 1968. I read her most recent book—Make It Rain—when it was published last year. And I’ve read a few in between. So I was already a fan—and then I read her December 2021 New York Times interview.
Her job, she told the New York Times, is to get people to think. And to be honest. Some of her views have changed over the past 50+ years. “There are things that I have learned and things that Earth has learned,” she says. Race, for example, is “illogical” and “a construct that is destructive.” Saying that does not erase her anger over racism and its destructions. For example, she sees no hope of redemption for Kyle Rittenhouse, and she hates Donald Trump.
“I as a Christian know that Jesus didn’t love everybody. When he was on the cross, he turned to the man on the right to comfort him, and the man on the right said, ‘You say you’re God, but you’re up here with the rest of us.’ Jesus, he realized, That’s a fool, and I’m not going to waste my time on a fool. He turned to the man on his left, and the man on his left said, ‘I do believe you are God.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘You will be with me today in heaven.’ You can’t assume that every fool is going to be saved. Because they’re not.”
I wanted to go back and reread that first book, that book that opened up for me not only black feelings and black talk but also the possibility and promise of poetry.
Searching the internet, I could find only a 1970 version: Black Feeling, Black Talk, Black Judgement. This book has all of the poems I remembered, and more besides. Some are raw, some are lyrical, some are funny. (As is the New York Times interview, in parts, especially the part about the little drummer boy at the very end. Go read it.)
She is still a dreamer, Giovanni says. Dreamer, teacher, truth-teller. Not a bad role model.
I’m going to reread the Nikki Giovanni books I already own. And then I’m going to look for the rest of them.