Nikki Giovanni was born in Knoxville, Tennessee and grew up in Lincoln Heights, an all-black suburb of Cincinnati, Ohio. She graduated with honors from Fisk University in 1968, after which she attended the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University. She published her first book of poetry, Black Feeling Black Talk, in 1968, and within the next year published a second book, thus launching her career as a writer. Her latest book is Bicycles: Love Poems (William Morrow). Early in her career she was dubbed the “Princess of Black Poetry,” and over the course of more than three decades of publishing and lecturing she has come to be called both a “National Treasure” and, most recently, one of Oprah Winfrey’s 25 “Living Legends.”
Many of Giovanni’s books have received honors and awards. Her autobiography, Gemini, was a finalist for the National Book Award; Love Poems, Blues: For All the Changes, and Quilting the Black-Eyed Pea were all honored with NAACP Image Awards. Blues: For All the Changes reached #4 on the Los Angeles Times best-seller list, a rare achievement for a book of poems. Most recently, her children’s picture book Rosa, about the civil rights legend Rosa Parks, became a Caldecott Honors Book, and Bryan Collier, the illustrator, was given the Coretta Scott King award for best illustration. Rosa was also a New York Times best-seller.
Giovanni’s spoken word recordings have achieved widespread recognition and honors. Her album Truth Is On Its Way, on which she reads her poetry against a background of gospel music, was a top 100 album and received the Best Spoken Word Album given by the National Association of Radio and Television Announcers. Her Nikki Giovanni Poetry Collection, on which she reads and talks about her poetry, was one of five finalists for a Grammy Award.
Giovanni’s honors and awards have been steady and plentiful throughout her career. The recipient of some 25 honorary degrees, she has been named Woman of the Year by Mademoiselle, The Ladies Home Journal, and Ebony. She was tapped for the Ohio Women’s Hall of Fame and named an Outstanding Woman of Tennessee. Giovanni has also received Governor’s Awards from both Tennessee and Virginia. She was the first recipient of the Rosa L. Parks Woman of Courage Award, and she has also been awarded the Langston Hughes Medal for poetry. She is an honorary member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority and has received Life Membership and Scroll from The National Council of Negro Women. A member of PEN, she was honored for her life and career by The History Makers. She has received the keys to more than two dozen cities. A scientist who admires her work even named a new species of bat he discovered after her!
The author of some 27 books for both adults and children, Giovanni is a University Distinguished Professor at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia.