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Nikki Giovanni to discuss compassion, courage and the challenge of poetry

Nikki Giovanni
September 29, 2011

Oprah Winfrey has named poet and activist Nikki Giovanni a living legend. The press has described Giovanni, an internationally respected proponent of civil rights and equality, as the “Princess of Black Poetry.” Giovanni will bring her perspective to Arizona State University, Oct. 7, when she delivers this year’s Jonathan and Maxine Marshall Distinguished Lecture.

Titled “The Compassion, The Courage, The Challenge of Poetry,” the lecture will focus on the individual and the power that an individual has to make a difference in oneself and the lives of others. It will begin at 7 p.m., in Katzin Hall on ASU’s Tempe campus. The lecture, which is free and open to the public, is presented by ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and co-sponsored by Project Humanities.

“Nikki Giovanni’s work remains an integral part of civil rights and black cultural studies,” said Neal A. Lester, dean of humanities at ASU. “The immediacy and accessibility of her poetry and her ability to mix the everyday and the political give her work broad social relevance.”

Giovanni was born in Knoxville, Tennessee, and grew up in Lincoln Heights, an all-black suburb of Cincinnati. She spent summers in Knoxville with her grandparents and graduated with honors and a bachelor’s degree in history from Fisk University, which was her grandfather’s alma mater. The same year of her graduation, 1968, Giovanni’s first book of poetry was published, titled “Black Feeling Black Talk.”

Since then, she has written or co-authored some 30 books, for both adults and children. She has accumulated numerous prestigious awards for her work including NAACP Image Awards for “Love Poems,” “Blues: For All the Changes,” “Quilting the Black-Eyed Pea,” “Acolytes,” and “Hip Hop Speaks to Children: A Celebration of Poetry with a Beat.” Giovanni’s autobiography, “Gemini,” was a finalist for the National Book Award in 1973.

In addition to her writing career, Giovanni is an accomplished speaker. She has released several recordings of her poetry, and in 2004, was nominated for a Grammy Award in the “Best Spoken Word Album” category for her “Nikki Giovanni Poetry Collection.”

Giovanni is a University Distinguished Professor of English at Virginia Tech. She previously taught at Rutgers University and Queens College. Through the course of her career, Giovanni has received 24 honorary doctorates from various institutions, including the University of Maryland, Smith College and Indiana University.

Additionally, Giovanni has been named Woman of the Year by Mademoiselle magazine, Ladies’ Home Journal, and Ebony magazine. She was inducted into 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 has received the Langston Hughes Medal.

The Jonathan and Maxine Marshall Distinguished Lecture Series was established in 1993 with support from Jonathan Marshall (deceased) and Maxine Marshall, retired publishers of the Scottsdale Daily Progress. This year’s lecture is a signature event for ASU’s Project Humanities, an ongoing, university-wide initiative with the expressed goal to show the interactions among humanities and other areas of scholarship and human endeavor.

Past Marshall Lectures have featured renowned journalists, producers, scientists, authors and historians, including Kerry Kennedy, Heather Rae, Calvin Trillin, Robin Wright, Jon Meacham, Seymour Hersh, Paul Krugman, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Martha Nussbaum, Baruch Blumberg, Martin Marty, Daniel Goldhagen, Arthur Caplan, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Lester Brown, Thomas Wicker and Arthur Schlesinger Jr.

More information is available at or 480-965-6397. Online parking maps for ASU’s Tempe campus are available at

Written by Evan Lewis.

Carol Hughes,
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences