Nikki Giovanni: ‘There’s Nothing Greater on Earth Than Black Women’
With her new book ‘Make Me Rain,’ the 77-year-old outspoken poet adds to her revolutionary body of work
We know Nikki Giovanni as a guiding light, an outspoken truth-teller, and an award-winning author. She’s one of our living legends, an honor Oprah bestowed upon her 14 years ago. But Nikki — as she insists on being called — doesn’t fuss over titles or accolades. “I’m just a poet,” she tells ZORA. That description has become her common refrain and the title of a poem in her newest collection of poetry and prose, Make Me Rain, released today. “All I have are words,” she writes in the poem. “And maybe a bit of hope.” Nikki’s six decades worth of work is sustained by that pairing. At 77, she continues to give us words that hum and humanize and a hope that breathes new life into our imaginations.
Among the leading poets of the Black Arts Movement, Nikki published her first volumes of poetry, Black Feeling, Black Talk, and Black Judgment, in 1968. With the latter, she gave us the treasured poem “Nikki-Rosa.” Before the age of 30, Nikki interviewed Lena Horne, Muhammad Ali, and James Baldwin. With more than 30 books to her name, Nikki is currently a distinguished professor of English at Virginia Tech, where she’s taught for the last 33 years.
ZORA spoke with the revolutionary poet last week about her latest work, how she defines herself, her $14 champagne ritual, and how Toni Morrison helped her process grief.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
ZORA: The title poem, “Make Me Rain,” is so rich and tender. What do you hope readers take away from the poem?
Nikki Giovanni: “Make Me Rain” is a love poem. All poets write love poems because all poets are always in love. I like the way that rain turns into so many different things, all of which relate to you. If it falls on your tongue, it can be ice, it can be snow. Rain does so many wonderful things. You cannot live without rain. That’s just the way it is. Black women are rain. We have watered this ground. There’s nothing greater on Earth than Black women, in my opinion.