When I walked out the National Civil Rights Museum today, a light rain was falling. My first thought was that it wasn’t really rain, but my tears instead. Nature, I remember thinking, knew my soul was crying because I had to leave before Nikki Giovanni started reading some of her poetry.
I’d just sat and listened to her speak for an hour, but I wanted to hear her read her poetry.
My utopian fantasy would involve Nikki Giovanni, Toni Morrison, Oprah Winfrey, Sonia Sanchez, Bernice McFadden, and the late Maya Angelou. We’d have cups of coffee and hot tea and lots of spiritual talk. I’d get to hear them talk about what it’s meant to be a black woman in America, not just any black woman, but a black woman who dared to step out of the boundaries of what our existence was supposed to amount to. Black women who dared to succeed.
I am one of those women who understands that the greatest wisdom is found at the foot of our elders, listening to their stories. I’ve had to settle, instead, for the sanitized articles that are doled out in the media. I want the gritty truth. And, to think, I almost didn’t go to see Ms. Giovanni today. I already knew I’d not be able to stay for the entire thing, so I said, not this time. But there might not be a next time, right? Right. So, I went. Because my reasoning amounted to choosing not to love because you might get hurt. I may have not got my happy ending (hugging her and having her sign my book), but I was there and heard her speak in person.
So, one of our local journalists, Mearl Purvis, spoke with Ms. Giovanni before she got up to read her poetry. And here are just some of the gems I gleaned from their conversation:
On being a creative artist: Our job is to “reflect the truth” and we are “lone wolves.”
On seeing so many black boys criminalized in media: “I take that with a grain of salt when they say a black boy did this or did that, because I know 20 who didn’t.”
On education: “Education is a good idea.” She acknowledged that without her education, she may not have been able to live the life she wanted to live.
On why rich black men surround themselves with white women: “It’s none of my business who they fuck.”
Advice for black athletes: “Send your posse to school. Because you’re going to need a lawyer and a manager.”
On religion: “Christians kill me. How can you love God and not love your fellow man?”
On relationships: “If you say you’re happy, I believe you. And when you’re unhappy, get rid of it.”
On black men: “We need to let our black men know you may have frustrations, but don’t take it out on people who love you.”
On her daddy: “I know Gus went to hell.”
On her mother’s death: “Mommy died because she didn’t want to bury Gary (her sister). Nobody said what about Nikki?”
What she’s currently working on: She’s doing a re-write of Raisin in the Sun. “We need to make a man out of Walter Lee instead of making a fool out of him.” The question she wants to answer with her new work is what would have happened had mama died instead of their daddy. The play, she said, is iconic, not sacred. “Walter Lee had issues. He didn’t respect what his daddy had done.” She wants to deal with his issues in her new work. If it’s published, she said, she’ll be happy. If not, she’ll sit and talk about it like all writers do. 🙂
All this was important, but my takeaway was this, In all her work, Nikki Giovanni said, she watched and not judged the actions of others. So, she really was simply trying to reflect the truth of what she observed, not judging people for their actions. If you judge others, she said, it’ll make you racist and crazy.
Listening to Ms. Giovanni was much like sitting at the kitchen table listening to my grandmother. I loved it. There’s no experience that can take the place of it. So, I’m glad I went. Even though I wasn’t able to stay to tell her how much I love her, how much her words speak to my soul, how much I admire her, and long to be a creative artist on her level.
The title of the poetry book Ms. Giovanni wrote after her mother died is called Chasing Utopia. It’s the one I took to have her sign. For her, she was chasing one of the best beers in the world. That was in memory of her mother, who was a beer drinker. For me, it’s chasing some of the best writers in the world, so that I can join their ranks. As I write this, it’s not raining anymore. The sun still is not out, but the rain has stopped. Yeah, but the sun will come out tomorrow. And I’ll continue chasing my utopia.
Happy writing and reading peeps!
Peace & Love,