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The Friends introduce Nikki Giovanni to Kick Off the Wisconsin Book Festival

October 19, 2020

When Friends board member Debra Shapiro introduced poet, activist, mother, and professor Nikki Giovanni on October 15, 2020, it was a tremendous thrill. Giovanni was the opening event for this fall’s Wisconsin Book Festival, and she did not disappoint. The dialog between Kiese Laymon and Giovanni was personal and revealing, their energy was off the charts, and their message was compelling.

Even Wisconsin Book Festival Director Conor Moran was surprised by the overwhelming turn out. “I knew it would be a highlight, but it was well above and beyond what I expected. Nikki Giovanni was just a fantastic way to start the Festival.” Indeed, people from 35 states and 10 different countries tuned in to laugh, cry, and learn from one of America’s foremost poets.

Speaking to a virtual audience of over 800 people, Nikki was immediately captivating. One moment she unapologetically spoke her mind about the state of U.S. politics, and the next she casually described cooking for Maya Angelou and Oprah Winfrey. She was incredibly honest about the struggles of southern women of color, yet her colorful words uplifted rather than depressed her listeners. Who else would describe coming to terms with incrementally slow social justice progress as “cotton candy in the rain”? It was humbling to be given a glimpse into her world of pain, frustration, joy, and pride. As the comments in the chat section continuously tumbled over themselves, it was clear that Giovanni resonates with the black experience in America.

If you missed it, you can still soak up Giovanni’s wisdom! The recording is available at the original crowdcast link (speaking begins at the 10 minute mark): https://www.crowdcast.io/e/wbf-make-me-rain?utm_source=website&utm_medium=event-page

From her own website, Giovanni says this:

“I was asked to do a biography so this is it.  I am 71 years old.  I highly recommend old age;  it’s fun.  I have been awarded an unprecedented  7 NAACP Image Awards which makes me very very proud.  I have been nominated for a Grammy; been a finalist for  the  National Book Award.  I am very proud to have authored 3 New York Times and Los Angeles Times Best Sellers, highly unusual for a poet.  I am a University Distinguished Professor at Virginia Tech.  I don’t have a lot of friends but I have good ones.  I have a son and a granddaughter.  My father, mother, sister and middle aunt are all deceased literarily making me go from being the baby in the family to being an elder.  I like to cook, travel and dream.  I’m a writer.  I’m happy.”

May we all aspire to such a life.