Poet, activist, and educator, Nikki Giovanni’s fiery, humorous, and reflective voice has long inspired artists, educated readers, and informed our national consciousness. Her newest poetry collection, A Good Cry: What We Learn from Tears and Laughter (October 24), is deeply personal and has been described as her most intimate collection. With selections like Surveillance, she recalls the violence that permeated her early years. She pays tribute to her grandparents in Baby West, and examines the history of the objects we treasure in Heritage. A Good Cry observes and celebrates the depth of emotions that accompany the trials and triumphs we face in life.
Giovanni believes that it is important that we learn to cry and laugh. In a time when there are so many things to distract us from feeling anything right at our fingertips, we often lose the opportunity to learn from what we feel and move forward together.
“Americans don’t cry,” she explains. “Your mother will die and someone will say, ‘It will be all right.’ But it won’t be. Man or woman, black or white, you are sad and your heart got broken. You should be able to cry. We have to allow ourselves to face that pain and embrace it. Embrace the people whom we love and the people with whom we feel we can share. You get tired of people saying, ‘I’m really strong, so it doesn’t matter.’ All of our emotions matter.”
Writing about circumstances involving other people can be a tricky situation. In Surveillance, Giovanni’s mother expresses her wish for what goes on in their house to stay in their house. Finding the courage to write about that part of her life in such an open and honest way was not easy.
“I could not have written that line fifty years ago. Mommy was more interested in how she and our family were viewed. I frankly don’t care. I know I should do better, but I don’t care what people are thinking about me,” she says.
“It’s important to me that my grandmother would be proud of me if she came down from heaven,” she adds. “If mommy came down from heaven, she would say, ‘You’re exposing some of us, but it’s all right because I love you.’ It’s not important how people look at us,” she adds.
Ultimately, caring what people think about your work as a writer or artist can limit your impact. Of course, the longer you practice your art, the more chances your work has to show contradictions. For Giovanni, this is an indication of growth.
To her students, she often says, “If you’re going to be a writer or a painter, there is always going to be some contradiction in your work. If you’re always doing the same thing, you haven’t learned anything. You’re going to learn something, and you have to be willing to embrace that fact.”
A lot of meaningful work is done when you give yourself over to the joy of sharing and thinking with other people. Over the span of thirty years, Giovanni’s career has been a living testament to that idea. She wants to do good work in all of her roles, and sees that as her responsibility. The result is a unique collection that pays tribute to those who have held a special place in her life, and the reality of her own experiences—both good and bad.
“If you’re not writing, you don’t know something,” she states. “You need to go study. I’m not a novelist or a playwright. I don’t write every day, but I do read every day. I take notes sometimes. I recently pulled over to the side of the road, put my blinkers on, and wrote a poem because I could see the rhythm of a wonderful jazz piece I was listening to. I don’t put pressure on myself, but I do consider what I have learned and how I will share it.”
A Good Cry: What We Learn from Tears and Laughter will be available for purchase on October 24. For more information on where to purchase Giovanni’s work, visit www.nikki-giovanni.com.
Written by Hayleigh Worgan