Acclaimed poet Nikki Giovanni will talk of love in Olympia visit

Acclaimed poet will talk of love in visit here When poet and activist Nikki Giovanni comes to Olympia next week, she will pay tribute to one of her favorite parts of Black History Month – Valentine’s Day.

“It’s a day we celebrate love. That’s important,” said Giovanni, who plans to read several love poems from her new book, “Chasing Utopia.”

On Feb. 20, Giovanni will share her poetry and insight on individuality and culture as part of South Puget Sound Community College’s Artist and Lecture Series.

Giovanni, a distinguished professor of English at Virginia Tech, was once dubbed the “princess of black poetry.”

She has been known to speak out against hate crimes and related violence. One notable example was her speech at a memorial service for the victims of the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre. Giovanni had taught the shooter in her poetry class.

Giovanni, 70, insists she is “just a poet” who supports the arts as a vehicle to “exchange ideas and push the envelope.” She has published nearly 30 books, ranging from poetry collections to children’s stories, since 1967.

Giovanni is also an avid reader with an interest in environmental issues. She is reading “The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft and the Golden Age of Journalism” by Doris Kearns Goodwin.

“This is really a tour de force,” said Giovanni, with an admiration for Roosevelt’s conservation work.

She also finds inspiration in music, particularly jazz, whether she’s traveling or teaching students about the Harlem Renaissance, where jazz icons including Duke Ellington and Count Basie made a name for themselves by playing “rent parties.”

She has an eye on the next generation. Giovanni’s favorite young writers include Kwame Alexander, who is one of her former students and author of “He Said, She Said,” and Edwidge Danticat, the Haitian-American author of “Breath, Eyes, Memory.” Giovanni thinks the latter could become “our next Toni Morrison.”

“She is one of the most brilliant young novelists,” Giovanni said of Danticat. “There’s just nothing but blue skies ahead for this kid.”

Aside from sharing a message of love, Giovanni looks forward to visiting Olympia to escape the snow. She spoke of kind neighbors who shoveled the driveway at her home in Blacksburg, Va., which was pummeled with record-breaking snowfall last week.

“They call this a storm, and this is not a storm,” she said, laughing. “Storms come in with thunder and lighting and wind and boom, boom, boom – and they’re gone.”

Andy Hobbs: 360-704-6869 ahobbs@theolympian.com