In praise of Nikki Giovanni

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In praise of Nikki Giovanni

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Virginia Tech's vigilant professor of English is a true leader

<b>Philip French
Sunday April 22, 2007</b>
<a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/usguns/Story/0,,2062610,00.html">The Observer</a>

<b>The following correction was printed in the Observer&#39;s For the record column, Sunday April 29 2007</b>

In the article below we said, when referring to Virginia Tech , that &#39;Edgar Allan Poe enrolled there in the 1820s&#39;. He was, in fact, a student at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. The Agricultural and Mechanical College, Virginia (Virginia Tech) was established in 1872.

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This has been an extraordinary week for Yolanda Cornelia &#39;Nikki&#39; Giovanni, born in Knoxville, Tennessee 64 years ago, called by some &#39;the Princess of Black Poetry&#39;, up in the African-American literary pantheon with Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou. A poet, essayist and political activist since her teens, Nikki Giovanni was a friend in the 1960s of the revolutionary Communist academic Angela Davis and the gay black polemicist and novelist James Baldwin. More recently she went bravely, recklessly public as an admirer of the late, embattled rap star Tupac Shakur.

Since 1987, Giovanni has been a professor of English at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, an enormous multicultural campus now universally known as Virginia Tech. Edgar Allan Poe, among the first American poets to win wide acclaim in Europe and a writer with a peculiar understanding of madness, enrolled at the university in the 1820s. At that time, Virginia was a slave state, and after the Civil War it retained educational segregation until the 1950s. When the Korean-born, American-raised Cho Seung-hui marched out last Monday across the Virginia Tech campus, killing as he went, we have his demented account of the aggressive, vengeful thoughts that went through his mind. We have a more lucid idea of what went through the mind of his teacher, Nikki Giovanni. Cho&#39;s stories, conduct in class and general demeanour had excited her concern, suspicion and fear, which she conveyed to the university authorities.

Last week, Virginia Tech provided Giovanni with a proper platform to speak on behalf of the university, its faculty and student body. She delivered her brief, beautiful &#39;chant poem&#39; at the university&#39;s memorial service, and it brought together a heterogeneous campus. Her fresh eloquence was in marked contrast to the event&#39;s principal speaker, President George W Bush. The term &#39;Hokie&#39;, by the way, suggests some ancient Indian tribe. It was in fact coined at Virginia Tech in the late 19th century as a communal cheer, a version of &#39;hooray&#39; or &#39;yeah&#39;, and became the name of the college&#39;s sports teams.

<b>Nikki Giovanni&#39;s &#39;chant poem&#39;</b>

We are Virginia Tech.

We are sad today, and we will be sad for quite a while. We are not moving on, we are embracing our mourning.

We are Virginia Tech.

We are strong enough to stand tall tearlessly, we are brave enough to bend to cry, and we are sad enough to know that we must laugh again.

We are Virginia Tech.

We do not understand this tragedy. We know we did nothing to deserve it, but neither does a child in Africa dying of Aids, neither do the invisible children walking the night away to avoid being captured by the rogue army, neither does the baby elephant watching his community being devastated for ivory, neither does the Mexican child looking for fresh water, neither does the Appalachian infant killed in the middle of the night in his crib in the home his father built with his own hands being run over by a boulder because the land was destabilized. No one deserves a tragedy.

We are Virginia Tech.

The Hokie Nation embraces our own and reaches out with open heart and hands to those who offer their hearts and minds. We are strong, and brave, and innocent, and unafraid. We are better than we think and not quite what we want to be. We are alive to the imaginations and the possibilities. We will continue to invent the future through our blood and tears and through all our sadness.

We are the Hokies.

We will prevail.

We will prevail.

We will prevail.

We are Virginia Tech.

Copyright Guardian News & Media Ltd 2007.
--
Original Source: Guardian Unlimited
<a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/usguns/Story/0,,2062610,00.html">http://www.guardian.co.uk/usguns/Story/0,,2062610,00.html</a>


Creator

Philip French

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Date

2007-08-09

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Adriana Seagle

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Eve Thompson-Acting Permissions Executive:permissions.syndication@guardian.co.uk

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eng

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Philip French, "In praise of Nikki Giovanni," in The April 16 Archive, Item #979, http://april16archive.org/items/show/979 (accessed September 3, 2014).