Nikki Giovanni wanted to talk about her ancestors. Only four generations ago, they were born into bondage. What must her great-great-grandmother have told her daughter about their future? How did they hold on to their faith?
“If the enslaved could believe, I know I can,” said the 76-year-old poet.
Speaking at the University of Chicago on Feb. 6, Giovanni delivered her words as part of the 37th annual George E. Kent Lecture, presented by the Organization of Black Students. Named for one of the first black professors to earn tenure at UChicago, the Kent Lectures have long drawn preeminent writers, scholars and cultural critics.
One of the nation’s most celebrated poets, Giovanni has been famous since she published her debut collection Black Feeling, Black Talk in 1968. Since then, she has won the Langston Hughes Medal, seven NAACP Image Awards and a Grammy Award nomination for best spoken-word album.
Throughout a wide-ranging talk before a packed audience, Giovanni offered bits of advice: Figure out who you are. Treasure your friendships. Don’t be afraid to grow old.