Poetry News

Surprise! Nikki Giovanni Makes an Appearance on Melissa Harris-Perry's Colorlines to promote her new book, Chasing Utopia

By Harriet Staff

Nikki Giovanni

Doesn't get very much better than this. Nikki Giovanni treated viewers to a live reading of her new poem, "Ego Tripping," on Melissa Harris-Perry's MSNBC program, Colorlines. Synopsis below courtesy of MSNBC; click the link at the bottom to watch a taped segment. Awesome!

Acclaimed poet and activist Nikki Giovanni joined Melissa Harris-Perry on Sunday to discuss her latest book, Chasing Utopia, and to perform her beloved poem Ego Tripping (there may be a reason why).

Giovanni, an English professor at Virginia Tech, spoke about her experience coping with the death of her mother, which she writes about in the book’s opening essay. In her process of mourning, Giovanni reflected on seeing her mother drinking a beer every day, and decided to find the top beer available to drink in her mother’s memory. After doing some reading, she determined that to be Utopias by Sam Adams–and her subsequent search for the hard-to-find beer led to naming the essay (and larger book) “Chasing Utopia.”

In her book, Giovanni also discusses her experience visiting New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. She told host Melissa Harris-Perry she’d traveled there to visit Marvalene Hughes, a friend and the president of Dillard University at that time. Seeing the damage the storm had inflicted on the university library. “I would have given anything to be able to just write a check for a million dollars to be able to rebuild it,” she said.

Instead, Giovanni asked herself, “What do you have Nikki, that can make a difference?”

That reflection led her to donate a collection of first editions of her books. The books had to be held in storage until the library was rebuilt–“but I wanted [Hughes] to know–this will be the beginning,” Giovanni related. Dillard now has a corner of their library named in her honor.

Harris-Perry read a portion of Giovanni’s poem Podcasts for Bicycles:

“But I grew up/And learned/Trust and love/Are crafts we practice/Are wheels/We balance/Our lives on/Are BICYCLES/We ride.”

In the poem, Giovanni references falling down as a child, and having her mother tell her, “Come here, Nikki, and I’ll pick you up.” She told Harris-Perry how comforting it was to hear she would be picked up, and that, “it took me the longest to realize – no, she made me get up myself.” She explained trust and love as “the two things spinning, and you have to connect them… and when you connect them it’s a bicycle.”

Harris-Perry asked how we practice trust and love in our collective life when it continues to be marred by violence, citing the most recent school shooting at Arapahoe High School in suburban Denver this week. Giovanni called for stronger leadership in Washington on the issue, stating, “Some things you can’t compromise on, and gun control would be certainly one of them.”

Harris-Perry concluded by asking Giovanni about the connection between poetry and humanity. “Poetry loves us,” Giovanni responded. “It’s unconditional.”

More at MSNBC.

Originally Published: December 17th, 2013