On Feb. 10, sporting a sweet sassy smile, Nikki Giovanni, spoke powerful words at Busboys and Poets 5th and K, in Northwest Washington, D.C.
“My mother died. It has been 10 years. Mommy died in June, my sister died three weeks later, then my middle aunt died, though you don’t look at it the same, my dog died in December,” Giovanni said. “It was a lot of sadness but it was a lot to be done. You don’t have to time cry. I have high blood pressure but I don’t have time to cry, and what I had to do is learn to let it out.”
From losing loved ones to being diagnosed with lung cancer in the 1990s, to now, breast cancer, the 74-year-old joked about what she told her physician after he diagnosed her high blood pressure. “You need to come up with a new disease called the Nikki.”
Though the lump in her breast was small and she could have had a less invasive procedure, Giovanni decided to take the most radical surgical approach, a mastectomy. “My breast has done all that it is going to do. There are no children to feed, no men to entertain… I said you have to slow down.”
Giovanni is a professor on the campus of Virginia Tech. One poem in the book is dedicated to former Virginia Tech All American Kevin Jones who went on to the NFL. Giovanni cried as she read, “Sunday school children offer a psalm, preachers offer hope, a choir offers a voice and join the community prayer to a merciful God that life will be better. I play football . . . I am doing my part to be part of this community, this school, this team, the Hall of Fame, when I know that the men and women who every day go forward. I play football. I hope I have done my share.”
Giovanni often self-edits what she talks about. She has no good words for President Trump but said she tries not to think too much about him much, and while many people urge her to send him a book, she doesn’t think it will make a difference. A mother of one son, Giovanni is passionate about love, relationships, and inspiring young people, versus speaking about the current president.
“If you put me next to Trump, who’s happy,” Giovanni asked. “My house is warm, there is food on my table and my dog has his shots, who’s happy,” Giovanni said. “I’m looking for truth. I am looking for love and I am looking to share it. To me that is what life is all about.”
The poet and educator spoke on the #MeToo Movement. “I am so proud of the White women, especially in Alabama, who came out to vote and said, ‘No’ to Ray Moore, and voted for Doug Jones [in the Senate race].”
Giovanni has spoken on hundreds of college campuses and events over the last 50 years. One of her hardest moments was finding the proper words to say at the special service held after the Virginia Tech mass shooting. She said she will never forget speaking to the mother of one of the students. “I told her that he had been shot in the chest. He would never run. He was a great kid. What was important to say [was] that we are Virginia Tech and we can’t let anyone take that away from us.”
Ever seeking to leave audiences inspired, Giovanni ended on a positive note.
“We are a new people and we can’t let Trump or anybody else take that away from us,” said Giovanni, who added a Valentine’s Day message in the same breath. “We have to love that Black man who came out of the field on Friday and said to his woman, ‘Put on that red dress baby, because we are going out tonight.‘ You have to love them.”