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Nikki Giovanni

Nikki Giovanni

“You have to get out with people to get feedback and energy. Performing your work gives you that, and it gives you a lot of love.”

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Talking with Nikki Giovanni

Poet Nikki Giovanni loves to read her work aloud before an audience.

“A couple hundred people come and smile at you. You read a work that you are so proud of that you don’t know what to do. And they clap!” exclaims Giovanni, who is impatient with writers who don’t like book tours. “I mean, what is the downside?”

Seriously though, “If you’re a writer and you don’t get out, you end up too isolated,” she says from her home in Blacksburg, Virginia, where she is Distinguished Professor of English at Virginia Tech. “You have to get out with people to get feedback and energy. Performing your work gives you that, and it gives you a lot of love.”

A live performance, she says, also gives the audience something it would not have gotten from simply reading the book. “I can say ‘now this is because of that—this is what I was trying to achieve.’ I think that’s helpful.”

Giovanni, who is herself “totally hooked” on audiobooks (she does her light reading by audiobook), says that she wanted her own new audiobook, THE NIKKI GIOVANNI POETRY COLLECTION, to give listeners the immediacy and repartee of a live performance. “With this recording, we didn’t want people to say, ‘Well, I could have figured that out for myself!’ We wanted to give them something extra.”

So, over the course of a long afternoon of taping, says Giovanni, “We did a lot of storytelling. Rick Harris, the producer, would ask me, ‘How did that happen?’ and I would tell him how a poem came about.” The result is a poetry reading and commentary. “It was so relaxed,” she says about the recording experience. “I was very happy making the recording. If they had put me in a studio with nothing to look at, I couldn’t have functioned very well. Having the staff there and being able to interact with them was very important. Seeing their happy faces, hearing them laugh at the right moments—that’s why the recording sounds so alive.”

And during the breaks, adds Giovanni with remembered pleasure in her voice, “We would get a cup of coffee and do Duke Ellington riffs. So, you know, we had a good time.”—Aurelia C. Scott

FEB/MAR 03 ©2003 AudioFile, Portland, Maine

Photo © Laura Blost

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