Thirty-five years after arriving at Virginia Tech, rooted in her legacy of educating college students, Nikki Giovanni is pinning her hat as an English professor, but the 79-year-old has no plans to slow down.
The Knoxville native, literary icon, and civil rights campaigner is preparing to focus on writing books about her childhood, which fans have grown to love.
“It was time. I am an old woman now, and I heard that if you don’t retire, they will fire you,” she joked.
But retirement does not stand in the way of her connection to the thousands of young people she has taught over the years.
“I will always be a hockey player. I will really miss my students more than anything. They keep you very alert to what’s going on right now. I’m a history major and love looking back. I love my generation, but kids bring in,” she told Knox News.
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Giovanni is known around the world as a literary legend, with unparalleled accolades. won many awards, Including the 2022 Ruth Lilly Poetry Award, the Rosa L..
Her published work includes 11 children’s books, three New York Times bestsellers, and a number of articles and recordings. She received 30 honorary degrees and was named among Living legends of Oprah Winfrey.
Her work includes topics such as race, gender, sexuality, and social issues that have been explored through her poetry, recordings, and non-fiction. Known as a champion of civil rights and social justice, who made her mark during the Black Arts Movement, she is part of the Black Power movement that shared many of its ideologies, political beliefs, and cultural practices.
With plans to continue living in Blacksburg, Virginia, and driving her 14-year-old BMW, Giovanni will keep memories of her time in Tennessee in her books.
Her newest book, “Library,” is due out this fall at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. The picture book chronicles her weekly childhood visits to the detached Carnegie Library in Knoxville, near her grandmother’s home. The former library was located on the corner of Nelson and East Vine Streets. The library served the Black community of Knoxville as a gathering space and think tank founded by educator Charles Warner Cansler.
She fondly remembers it not only as a place to gain knowledge but also as a place for imagination and escape.
“I am very happy with this book. My grandmother would do the laundry on Mondays, and when she did her work around the house, she would take what we called at the time ‘sit’. She would ask me, ‘Don’t you want those books back?’…that allowed her to sit down. Just don’t bother her.
She said, “I realized I was one of the few people still able to write about this. Not many people know this part of Knoxville.”
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Before urban removal destroyed the black community so that city leaders could build the James White Parkway near downtown Knoxville in the 1960s, Giovanni’s grandparents lived at 400 Mulvaney Street, at the intersection of Vine Street.
Her maternal grandparents, John Brown and Emma Lovinia Watson, were forced out of their house to make way for the motorway, and eventually moved onto Linden Street, but it was nothing like their precious home Mulvaney. Giovanni recounted numerous memories of summers and holidays she spent on the former street during her illustrious literary career.
She also remembers the white supremacy she attributes to the destruction of her family’s home.
“She told me they had to move because of a project,” she said of her grandmother’s interpretation.
“If you look at any number of towns where the black community resides, they’re going to be pushed into what’s known as the bad part of town. Then after the blacks made a community out of it, you built a school and you had a library, and then they want it and decide they’re going to see a highway From which “.
Knoxville hosted Giovanni in the spring of 2019 to dedicate a plaque at the Cal Johnson Center in recognition of her work and the city’s failed attempt at urban renewal.
New book “A Street Called Mulvaney” is in preparation
Born in 1943 at the former Knoxville General Hospital, Giovanni has shared with Knox News that she is keeping Knoxville alive with a new title to be released by 2024.
The title, which was born out of her own words, was no accident.
“The street called Mulvaney doesn’t exist anymore. And I stopped myself and said, ‘That’s my nickname.'”
Giovanni says the book will focus on her childhood memories of the days at her grandfather’s house, Mount Zion Baptist Church, Cal Johnson Park, and the little stream that ran next to it.
I wanted to write about my family, my grandmother and my grandfather. It is a book of childhood memories. Now that Mulvaney is no longer around, I want to write about it. You are not dead until I forgot you. “I didn’t want Mulvaney to die,” Giovanni said.
in spite of Leave it teacherShe still considers herself a historian with high hopes that the future generation will be inspired to take over.
“It’s funny, everyone acts as if we can go and study history and find out exactly what happened, but in the end, what we end up with are someone’s memories.”
“I hope other young people who read my book will want to write their memories too, whether it’s about Chicago, St. Louis. … I hope people realize that our memories are just as important as something you have a record of. I may not have a record, but I know what I remember. , “She said.
Giovanni would keep busy traveling around the country, but if it was up to her, she would hit the lottery and open a small restaurant that fried chicken. Or better yet, travel to outer space, a dream I’ve always dreamed of for ages.
“I can’t do it anymore. I’m a cancer survivor. I lost my left lung, but if I could, why not? I can dream. I’m going to die anyway, and I’ll be happy in outer space.”
“I don’t know how long I’ll live. I’ll be lucky to get into my 80s. You should go at some point, and you might as well be in the galaxy,” she laughed.