Poetry News

Patrick A. Howell Interviews Nikki Giovanni at Los Angeles Review of Books

By Harriet Staff
Nikki Giovanni

Visit Los Angeles Review of Books to read a conversation between writer Patrick A. Howell and arts and cultural force, Nikki Giovanni. Their dialogue begins with Howell asking about social consciousness and justice: "It is widely reported that your Tennessee grandmother, Louvenia Watson, played a huge role in forming your consciousness for justice, love, and righteousness for your people. Even in these morally compromised times in America, can you say that you have found these qualities throughout your life’s work?" Let's dive in, with Giovanni's response, starting there: 

NIKKI GIOVANNI: I think that the grandmothers were incredibly organized. If you think about the Civil Rights movement, you really are looking at grandmothers. I know we all look to King and some of the other people standing on stage, but if you look at who organized, it was the grandmothers. If you look at Montgomery and Ms. Parks, it was the grandmothers that were leading people because people didn’t have jobs. They were the ones making the food and taking it to them. They were the ones who were the cab drivers to make up the difference in their money. Some of them would have their clubs where they played cards, but mostly they organized so they knew each other and they knew what each other needed — what they could get done.

I was born in Knoxville, Tennessee. It was the grandmothers who were saying, “We are not going to go to Miller’s Department Store.” They were the ones. I think we miss them, frankly speaking.

Are you a grandmother?

I am, but my granddaughter is only 12, and it is a different world now. Coming up in the age of segregation, I don’t think we could have come through it without the grandmothers. Even if you look at Martin [Luther King], you look at his mother. She was a grandmother, right? Ultimately, she was going to be murdered in church. Somebody must have known: “The grandmothers are important, and if I don’t get rid of Mrs. King, it’ll all start over again.”

As we move into this 21st century, it is impossible to ignore the historical patterns that have emerged both challenging and promising the American dream. In Donald J. Trump, we have Richard M. Nixon’s wildest dream. The Black Arts movement continues in a series of streams flowing through the grassroots of Black Lives Matter and the high-culture expressions of Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther and hip-hop. What is your American dream for the next generations?

First of all, I would disagree that Donald Trump is Richard Nixon. I think you have to compare Donald Trump to Adolf Hitler. I think that Trump is evil, and I think that he is a murderer. We continue to see him encouraging war as we continue to see his greed. So, as bad as I thought Richard Nixon was, and I was glad he resigned under threat of impeachment, and that was led by representative Barbara Jordan, I think you have to look at Trump for what he is — he is evil.

My hope for the future — I am a big, big fan of Black Lives Matter. I think that the kids, the young people have done a wonderful job. I wish that I could sit around some of the tables at dinner time and hear the grandmothers talk to their granddaughters. I bet you there were granddaughters who said, “I am not going to let my grandmother die seeing her grandson shot down.” I think all of that had to do with Black Lives Matter. And, of course, the prisons are just incredibly stupid. They are bad. We know that the prisons are the new Klansmen. They no longer lynch black men and women — and you have to remember that black women were lynched. America has more people in prison than anybody else [in the world].

Read more at Los Angeles Review of Books.

Originally Published: January 11th, 2019