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Renowned Poet Nikki Giovanni Retires From Education After 35 Years

Nikki Giovanni beaming at her book signing at the Thomas Nelson Community College. Photo courtesy of Trisity Miller.

Nikki Giovanni, an internationally-known writer and poet who has also worked as an English professor at Virginia Tech (VT), recently announced her retirement after being a part of the school’s faculty for 35 years.  

“It is hard to imagine the Department of English and the Creative Writing Program here at Virginia Tech without University Distinguished Professor Nikki Giovanni. I have lost count of the number of times I have sent our undergraduate and MFA students to her for guidance. Many were too shy to approach her themselves, but she made them feel at ease immediately, and welcome them into her office,” Lucinda Roy, a writer and alumni distinguished professor at VT said. 

“Her smile is as contagious as her passion for literature, and her stories about people she has known through the decades are inspiring,” she continued. 

Giovanni’s writing career began during the Black Arts and Black Power Movements. She published her first poetry collection in 1968. Some of her notable works include “Black Judgment” and “Black Feeling, Black Talk.” Her work advocated for Black reform and revolutionary action while exploring gender, race and sexuality. 

Giovanni was invited to teach at VT in 1987 by Virginia Fowler, an English professor at the time, as part of the Commonwealth Visiting Professor program. The program looked for artists and scholars from minority groups for the university. 

“In all fairness, I’m getting old,” Giovanni said in a VT statement

Giovanni was named a University Distinguished Professor in 1999, which acknowledges VT faculty whose work attracts national and international recognition. She has received multiple awards including the Rosa L. Parks Woman of Courage Award, the Langston Hughes Award and a Literary Excellence Award. Additionally, she has received the NAACP Image Award seven times. 

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“Poetry has changed because of Nikki Giovanni. She awakens in others the notion that poetry is an unending source of illumination– a way for us to see and re-see in a new light a world we thought we knew,” Roy said. 

Last year, Giovanni became the first writer-in-residence of the Toni Morrison Writing Program at Prairie View A&M University, a historically Black public university in rural Texas. The program raised awareness and appreciation for African American literature. Jada Ingleton, a junior journalism major at Howard University, recognizes Giovanni’s impact on Black students. 

“Giovanni used her poetry to speak on social issues and politics, starting out in a time where Black girls were not being celebrated for their talent. Not to mention, she played an active role in the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s,” junior journalism major, Jada Ingleton said.  

“Simply put, she inspires, educates and advocates for young Black minds,” she continued. 

Giovanni has also taught at Ohio State University, Rutgers University and Queens College. Her most recent book, “A Library,” debuted in September and is a children’s book about her experiences going to the library as a child.

“I can’t think of a more appropriate time for this children’s book to appear than this year when we are struggling to persuade people that libraries are the most magical sites societies have ever invented,” Roy said. 

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Copy edited by Jadyn Barnett

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