Poet Nikki Giovanni has been telling it like it is for over three decades. The award-winning writer, activist and educator became famous during the Black Power and Black Arts movement, delivering poems with themes of unapologetic blackness and feminist thought, all while donning her signature afro.
Now the 74-year-old revolutionary wordsmith is back with a new book of poetry called “A Good Cry: What We Learn from Tears and Laughter.”
In an exclusive interview with theGrio, Giovanni opens up about how writing the book helped her heal after the loss of dear friend and fellow poet Dr. Maya Angelou, why she’s proud of this generation of Black Lives Matter activists and why she’s betting her money that President Donald Trump will be impeached before the end of his first term.
TG: This book shows different sides of your history, your close relationships with other great women like Ruby Dee, Maya Angelou… What inspired you to write this?
NG: My mom died 10 years also and it’s very hard. And I think if you’re a woman when you lose your mother… women have a lot to do. So you don’t really get to mourn. You’re sad but you have to bury them, you have to take care of the house. It’s just a lot. And so you keep things inside.
So I ended up writing a book because I lost a lot of people. You know Maya was a good friend. What I wanted to do with this book was in many respects to share a loss, but it’s not a pitiful book. It is a book that says we lose people and we have to find a way to mourn.
TG: How do you feel about this generation’s activism? Are you proud of them and do you see yourself in them at all?
NG: I’m incredibly proud of them. And I don’t think they need people like me to tell them what to do. Our job is to let them know that we’re behind them, which we are.
I was in New York for a rap festival… I was reading poetry. Black Lives Matter was there. I stopped by just to say ‘I love you guys.’ It just made me cry to see what we have tried to do, they are continuing.
We know that if we’re living on planet earth, we who are black are going to have to continue to shape the earth. We are the only people capable of doing that.
TG: One of the things that has been in the news is the sexual assault cases of Harvey Weinstein, how he’s [accused of] abusing actresses for years and years and getting away with it. What do you think about women speaking out against abuse and calling out the men who have assaulted them?
NG: If you go back twenty years I was one of the earlier people to say Bill Cosby was wrong and people got upset with me. They said ‘I don’t think we should do that.’ Well, I don’t think that any man, any color, any race anybody else has the right to abuse women.
Still we are talking about the big names right now; the women who are speaking up to say that Harvey Weinstein and any number of other people- of course that fool in the White House was bragging about it: “You can be a star and put your hands all over somebody” and that didn’t seem to change the way that anybody looked at him.
I have a son…but I think that we as women definitely need to say to our girls ‘We can’t have this. You need to keep talking to me so that I know what is going on.’ It is important that the young women speak up and say ‘no’ and talk to each other, their aunts and mothers, and anybody they can so we can stop this.
TG: What do you think about moving forward politically? Do you think [Donald] Trump is a fluke or are we going to be dealing with Trump for a very long time?
NG: If I had a dollar, I would bet my dollar that they are going to impeach him because one, he his clearly crazy and two, he is clearly evil, but three it’s clear that the Russians put him in office.That has nothing to do with what Americans voted for…
Again as Americans, as someone living on planet Earth if I can’t do anything else, I can own myself. Someone can come around and shoot me, then I’d be dead. But if that is the case, whatever the last thing I did is- I believed in it. And that is all I can offer to the world.
Editor’s Note: This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.