Nikki Giovanni, Photo Courtesy of The Creative Independent
On Sept. 27, poet, activist, educator and HBCU graduate, Nikki Giovanni became the first writer-in-residence of the Toni Morrison Writing Program at Prairie View A&M University (PVAMU), a public HBCU in rural Texas.
The purpose of this program is to raise awareness and appreciation for African American literature. The writing program was established by President Ruth Simmons in honor of the esteemed African American author, Toni Morrison, with the help of Morrison’s former student, MacKenzie Scott. Scott, a novelist herself, donated $50 million to PVAMU last fall, and the university set aside $3 million specifically for the establishment of this program.
Having Giovanni as the first writer-in-residence comes with excitement from both students and faculty members.
“I feel that Nikki Giovanni’s new position as the writer-in-residence of the Toni Morrison Program is a great idea. She will bring a new aspect to writing, especially for young African Americans,” Trinity Wiley, a freshman civil engineering major at PVAMU, said.
Ymitri Mathison, PhD, the head of department of languages and communications, expressed similar sentiments, explaining how impactful Giovanni will be for PVAMU students.
Mathison said, “She will be a role model for our students and inspire our budding writers. She will help our students see the value of poetry in their everyday lives. She will be an inspiration for them.”
Giovanni has written critically acclaimed works, such as: “Black Feeling”, “Black Talk”, “My House”, “Racism 101”, “Cotton Candy on a Rainy Day” and many more poetry collections and books. She has also received multiple awards throughout her career, including the NAACP Image Award, Langston Hughes Award for Distinguished Contributions to Arts and Letters, and over 20 honorary degrees from universities across the country.
However, it isn’t just her extensive resume and awards that make Giovanni a standout candidate for this role. Giovanni was also heavily involved in the Civil Rights movement.
“Many of her past awards have recognized her contributions to raise awareness about social issues, and this resonates strongly with our students,” Dorie Gilbert, the dean of the college of arts and sciences, said.
Having a writer that is both well-versed in social service and writing is important for the position, as the writer-in-residence will be tasked with going beyond the PVAMU hill and out into the local community, according to Emma Johanne Thomas-Smith, the university’s provost emerita and overseer of the Toni Morrison Writing Program.
The writer-in-residence’s tasks are as follows: “writing contests in which senior high school winners earn college scholarships, summer creative writing workshops, formation of virtual writing and reading clubs and establishment of degree programs,” Thomas-Smith said. “Her vast body of work, extensive work with other literary artists, editors, educators, and her amazing capacity to keep her work fresh as change occurs in the world around her equip her to offer invaluable guidance,” she continued.
The official induction ceremony took place at 6 p.m on Sept. 27. The closed event was live streamed exclusively for PVAMU students, faculty and staff.
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