Nikki Giovanni: In Her Revolutionary 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. It is my personal conviction that the aims of the women’s power movement ultimately fall short of the mark if women do not occupy 50 percent of the power structure positions in government and the executive suites of the United States. People need to be talked to. If he said, “I am thinking about closing down planet Earth. I’m sure that you are not supposed to smoke there, but I am sure that Louvenia is there smoking. I had to laugh at myself and say it is funny that Charles dies right after A Good Cry because it made me want to have a good cry. And we know that some men are not nice or smart. I’m going to be a natural woman. So, it’s been a sad week. Since then, she has completed 20 books of poetry, about a dozen children’s books (from Spin a Soft Black Song [1971] to I Am Loved [2018]), and seven recording albums. So, I say when I go to hell, I’m going to be a good girl and get a day-pass and get a chance to go up to my grandmother, so I can ask her, “Why did you put up with me?” I can sit down with her as an old lady and say, “Were you proud of me? If you think about the Civil Rights movement, you really are looking at grandmothers. The challenge is that of simple arithmetic. 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. But most people don’t. The way you get through it is you write through it. How do I get through it? A good cry? We’ve seen some black female judges who have just been terrible, and some, incredible. If you look at Montgomery and Ms. So you can see what the group is going to look like. But I think that love is important — yeah. And maybe it’s time that we who like people started to talk to people and not just let the haters do it. Their wives come out with a black eye and the husbands say, “See, look at what I do. HOWELL: 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. If mommy is there sitting with us, I know that she is having a beer. I eat the meat that I shoot. First of all, America is changing colors. She called me. Now, we hear people talking about how they want their guns so they can hunt. Okay. When you look at [Paul] Ryan — when you look at the Congress, they don’t have their backbones. So, I’m happy for Serena, and I go whenever I get to watch her. We know that the prisons are the new Klansmen. Jackie Robinson was a Republican, and I’m not against him. The white man is already scared. She worked with one of his people, and she said, “Would you like to do some poetry with Ali?” I said, “Are you kidding, I would love to.” So, we traveled around for a while. It’s part of my M.O. I thought you might have something to say about that as it relates to your own activism and your own experiences with Virginia Tech in 2007 — and as you emerged as a national voice during the assassinations of Kennedy, Evers, Malcolm, and Martin. And, of course, the prisons are just incredibly stupid. That’s like husbands beating up their wives. They no longer lynch black men and women — and you have to remember that black women were lynched. You don’t go hunting, and the deer doesn’t have a chance. Trump, we have Richard M. I’m 74 years old and a little behind on some things but, in talking to my students, they say, “You should do a podcast, because you talk all the time.” So, in the next couple of months I am working on a podcast so I can, again, reach people. Your last work was Chasing Utopia: A Hybrid (2013). And what you see is a lot of people have earplugs and they are listening to something. I said the other day to a group — “Fortunately, God doesn’t call me.” But if God called me and said, “Hey Nikki, it’s God, do you have a minute?” And, of course, you know, you would have a minute for God. Where there was once a spirit of revolution, there is now forgiveness, diplomacy, and statesmanship. America has more people in prison than anybody else [in the world]. We’ll just be sitting there saying, “Well, how did this happen? They are listening to somebody talk to them, and I am thinking, I talk. That young football player and him kneeling down — I see Ali’s set on him. I’ve been pleased with the fact that I have been working so much. I’m not going to let [anyone] take my womanhood away from me. I said if God called you and said, “How do you think we are doing?” what would you say? Even in these morally compromised times in America, can you say that you have found these qualities throughout your life’s work? The lions, once regal and fierce, become lions of winter. We are going to miss Charles a lot. There are just people who I dislike, like Donald Trump. And you are calling me at a very sad time. I wish that I could sit around some of the tables at dinner time and hear the grandmothers talk to their granddaughters. I am lucky because when they took his belt, he didn’t have a job and he wrote poetry. The new generation has taken a strong stand with the gun lobby. A Good Cry just came out, and I have been working with Ashley Bryan, who I love so much. It’s also prophetic, isn’t it? They shoot it because they want to show it is a trophy. I’m a Christian — oh, they all have to be Christian, they all have to Israeli. Where there were once sharp, hard lines, there are now soft pastels, curves, and shades. So, I think that what we want are more outstanding people. ¤
Patrick A. America is turning brown and yellow. I teach at Virginia Tech, and one of the things that I teach is creative writing. Those are the choices and the decisions I have made. What was your hardest time as a writer, and how did you get through it? Do you see his greatness in our new generation — in our Colin Kaepernick, in our Serena Williams? Well, thank you. Are you a grandmother? Did I do a good job?” Because I know that she went there. [Laughs.] You miss people with his vision and who cared the way that he did. I think that is wonderful. I am going to read you a poem of yours:
Revolutionary Dreams
i used to dream militant
dreams of taking
over america to show
these white folks how it should be
i used to dream radical dreams
of blowing everyone away with my perceptive powers
of correct analysis
i even used to think i’d be the one
to stop the riot and negotiate the peace
then i awoke and dug
that if i dreamed natural
dreams of being a natural
woman doing what a woman
does when she’s natural
i would have a revolution 
Yes, I love that poem. I’m happy for Colin. I am getting ready to do what I hope will be a podcast. She was a grandmother, right? I really loved Charles. Somebody must have known: “The grandmothers are important, and if I don’t get rid of Mrs. I’m a man, and I am going to stand up for what I believe. And he said, this is what is important to me. What is your American dream for the next generations? To make a way for love. What made me happiest about Charles is I never let him down. And what we are looking for are nice, smart people. So, I’m not going to heaven. What are you now working on? That’s not what I asked you. And some red wine. That’s ridiculous. You have to be careful how you use love because love can do different things. Parks, it was the grandmothers that were leading people because people didn’t have jobs. Ultimately, she was going to be murdered in church. With Nikki Giovanni in London, 1971, James Baldwin’s photo. I was debating whether we should wait for this conversation. He just decided, I am not afraid. I’m thinking about getting rid of human beings, what are your thoughts?” I think we’d all be in trouble because you can’t lie to God. “Look at what I can do.” If you took that back 50 years, they put a picture of a black man hanging from a tree. And when Ali did what he did, he was all alone. It’s no one thing now. And so, there isn’t anybody like Muhammad Ali. You cry through it, too. I never said something I did not do. You have to look at who did what when. It was the grandmothers who were saying, “We are not going to go to Miller’s Department Store.” They were the ones. It’s the way it was in the very beginning and nearly 400 years later that is how it is today. Did you read poetry to your grandmother? I would probably take a really good bottle of wine for my mother — and grandmother loved Winstons. Could you say that you think this has been a good idea? Writers are always questioning what we say and how we want to say it. Really? She has received dozens of awards — honorary doctorates and the keys to cities — and recognition for her social impact on women and African-American communities. I know that. But there are day-passes. Think of the freedom gladiators as Nelson Mandela or Muhammad Ali in their later years. I just don’t want to get caught in that trap — they all have to be men, they all have to be women. A lot of times I feel exactly as you do. I hope he goes to hell. The only way that is going to stop — and it is going to be slow — is one at a time. Well, you know I have trouble with people who are saying it ought to be a 50 percent situation because some women are not nice or smart. It is like the oxygen that we breathe — that is just how America is. Who are your inspirations? I am always reminding them that it’s probably time we started to teach the young children that read our books, that when somebody asks them, “Who are you?” they say, “I am an earthling.” It’s time that we moved into, “We are earthlings.” It doesn’t really matter if you are from America, North or South, Russia, or China. Black lives murdered, black lives incarcerated is elemental to American life. You can see that every place. There are probably a lot of good men, but not a whole lot. When Ali stood up, he really stood alone. They were the ones making the food and taking it to them. You have to recognize that he opened the door. They were the ones who were the cab drivers to make up the difference in their money. Because there are day-passes for everything. Americans have been bought and sold. He was a good man. It is amazing to have Americans that don’t care if someone has committed treason in the White House just because they are getting enriched by it. Grandmother just meant a lot to me. Because, as you know, he had to give up his belt, and, of course you know, his life was being threatened a lot. First of all, I would disagree that Donald Trump is Richard Nixon. Now there are other athletes, other people going through that door. What would Nikki consider success and equality in women’s suffrage? NIKKI GIOVANNI: I think that the grandmothers were incredibly organized. I am a member of Delta Sigma Theta, and we have looked at incredible women like Barbara Jordan. What you want is good people. When I spoke with her recently, she was in mourning over the loss of a friend, Charles. I just think that is something that is central to what America is. First of all, I think the NRA obviously has too much power. If you can just say that about anyone that you love — well, that’s the best that you can do. He is a great illustrator. You don’t need the guns the way that they are now. My dear friend Charles Steiger died. I think the hard time with any writer is when you are sad. People are lonely. Somebody needs to open a grocery store selling backbones. And somebody has a picture of that. What comes after Utopia? We started this conversation with Louvenia Watson. 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. I think we miss them, frankly speaking. How many people have AR-15s? Howell is an award-winning banker, business leader, entrepreneur, and writer. I don’t know if I can really answer that. They are bad. In Donald J. Coming up in the age of segregation, I don’t think we could have come through it without the grandmothers. My hope for the future — I am a big, big fan of Black Lives Matter. What matters is that you are from Earth, and we need to start teaching that to our youngsters so that they can begin to see themselves as a part of a bigger situation. I know my mother is in heaven. I travel a lot. I just want to project love and positivity. I bet you she sneaks over and has a cigarette. “Look at what I can do.” And if you took it just a few years more, you can see the most horrible thing — that black woman that they lynched and split open and her baby fell out. That was my impression, after a conversation with griot Nikki Giovanni — a “queen mother of movements” — whose positions on the issues are just as potent now as they were over half a century ago. I would say that I think we are working through it. It’s been several thousand years and it hasn’t worked, so maybe we need to shut this all down and start all over again.”
Wow. I’d have to say, “Well, you know, it hasn’t worked. I never think of myself as going to heaven. JANUARY 10, 2019

SOMETIMES, WHEN FOLKS get older, they age gently. 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. So, I was just very lucky to get to know him. How did that happen?”
In 1972, you interviewed Muhammad Ali, the Greatest of All Time. I had to laugh about it. 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. ¤
PATRICK A. 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. Hunting is when other things have a chance. Are you preaching love? Where there was once judgment and the spirit of a fighter, there is now understanding and calmness, coupled with patience and perspective. Ashley and I did a book called I Am Loved — it’s a children’s book, and I am pleased with that. It’s not as easy, and a lot of times it may not seem like it makes any sense in terms of what you are seeing. But the clarity and intensity with which she spoke about leadership (or lack thereof) in our nation, the lack of compassion in our times, and the senselessness of gun violence, was not tempered and refined but enhanced, underscored, and bold-faced by age. I was going to say, you are a little bit behind. But sometimes, just sometimes, people grow fiercer. [Laughs.] Yes, it was awful. I think as we are changing colors, we are changing our responsibility to planet Earth. I think you will. We continue to see him encouraging war as we continue to see his greed. Giovanni’s first book, Black Feeling, Black Talk (1968), sold over 10 thousand copies in its first year. 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. I don’t know what they are doing, but I know that they don’t have them. My old lady listens to me.” All of that has to stop. We had a mutual friend: Victoria Lucas. Even if you look at Martin [Luther King], you look at his mother. She has been dubbed “Poet of the Black Revolution,” and is one of the foremost authors of the Black Arts movement, influenced by the Civil Rights movement and Black Power movement. I am, but my granddaughter is only 12, and it is a different world now. I’m happy for all of them. Nixon’s wildest dream. So, hunting for somebody to say, “Look at what I did.” That’s insane. But when Ali did what Ali did, nobody had done what he had done. So, he did. Usually, what they are listening to is podcasts. That it is more powerful to make a way for hope. I think you would be doing poetry while she is smoking and listening to you. We don’t have enough good people. I think that the kids, the young people have done a wonderful job.