A Chat with Nikki Giovanni (Interview)

A Chat with Nikki Giovanni
By Dr. Shanessa Fenner

Nikki Giovanni is a living legend. She is a poet, writer, activist, and educator. At the age of 73, she continues to write and teach others how to bring out their inner creativity. I had the pleasure of speaking with her about her latest book and enjoyed the great advice on writing.

Shanessa Fenner: What is your latest project that you are working on?
Nikki Giovanni: I am writing my latest book entitled “A Good Cry.” It started because I became aware that no matter what the myth is about women crying all the time, women do not cry. When your husband, mother, or sister dies you bury them and you get things done. You sell the car, rent the house, and just do things you have to do and you don’t have time to mourn. It dawned on me that a lot of people my age don’t really know how to mourn. My doctor says we have high blood pressure because we don’t take care of ourselves.  I think we have high blood pressure because we keep a lot of things inside. We need to take time for ourselves.  I think if we would learn to cry our blood pressure would go down and we would be better. As women we have to take better care of ourselves.     

SF: Do you ever experience writer’s block?
NG:  I really don’t because I don’t believe in it. If you have writer’s block it means you do not know enough. You probably don’t know what you are writing about.  You need to go and get some more information. You need to relax and get more in tune with yourself.

SF: What is your viewpoint of the black women and men being killed by the police?
NG:  I think policemen should not have guns. The British police do not have guns. If the police do not have guns the community looks out for the police the same way the police look out for the community. The police is there for the community and I think the police should look like the community. There should be many more black men and women helping to patrol the community. I think one of the things that happened with the old Ku Klux Klan is that they joined police forces. So what they do now instead of lynching black guys they just go and shoot them. It is an amazing thing to me that John Hinckley Jr. who shot President Reagan is only 61 years old and he is out of prison. He can actually vote in this election. I think that is a damn shame because if you are an 18 or 19-year-old black male and you were picked up for smoking marijuana, then you have a conviction and you won’t be able to vote. So I think a lot of craziness is going on. It’s time that human beings stop killing each other. 

SF: Let’s talk about the Virginia Tech shooting.  I am aware that you knew the student.
NG:  It is very sad and it is something that I do not talk about a lot. Now that the Orlando shooting has occurred we are no longer the most people killed. Mr. Cho needed to be put away. I think that nobody wanted to admit that something was wrong with this young man.  I was teaching him and I requested to my department head that he be taken out of my class. We embraced our sadness and we moved on.  We have done everything we know how to do right now if there would be another event of that nature we could tell students.  Even at that no matter how we look at it if somebody is determined to take a machine gun and kill a lot of people it’s going to happen. I think that it is time for America to quit worshipping guns. That’s a bad idea.

SF: What do you think makes good writing?
NG: Good writing is a good story. I teach creative writing to a young audience. I had the extreme pleasure of teaching Kwame Alexander almost ten years ago. I am so proud of him. He won the Newbery Award for best novel for “The Crossover.” A good story teaches you something and lets you become involved with the character. I can’t read murder books and on television I don’t look at anyone get killed. It really bothers me and I don’t find people dying entertaining.  One of the things I look for in good writing is character development and of course you’re looking for images and metaphors. You look at how the book is developing a metaphor. Most of my reading is nonfiction. I read to learn something. I was a history major in college and I continue to love history and how we learn how this planet has evolved and how we have evolved with each other. I’m excited about what I learn when I pick up a book.

SF: My favorite poem that you wrote is “Woman.” What inspired you to write it?
NG: I am a woman and you notice a lot of times women don’t write about themselves. I have a friend who teases me all the time and tells me that the only thing I really love in life are little, old ladies.  That is the truth because I have such an affection for old, black ladies. They’ve done so much and yet they remain positive and go forward with a good spirit. I don’t go to church as often as I should and if my grandmother was here I would be going. I love the poem.  Thank you.

SF: What kind of advice do you like to give writers?
NG: To remember that every day you don’t have to write but every day you must read. That’s what is important. You must read something. If I don’t read anything else I read the comic section.  When I get my newspaper I want to know who was born on this day, what happened on this day, and then I read my horoscope. So that just makes my day go forth and after that I read the comics. I really like “Red and Rover” and “Pickles.”    


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