Giovanni, Nikki




Poet Nikki Giovanni was born in Knoxville, Tennessee and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio.  Educated at Fisk University, she has been on the faculty at Virginia Tech since 1987, where she is a University Distinguished Professor. Her early poetry focused on her commitment to civil rights and black power, while her more recent work has highlighted the power of the individual to transform the self and others.

In “Nikki-Rosa”, Giovanni considers personal history and assumptions made across racial differences. The poem calls into question our ability to truly understand someone else’s background and our impulses to assume we understand where other people come from. What assumptions do we make? Why do we assume what we assume? What does it mean to really know about someone’s background or childhood?

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Originally appeared in Nikki Giovanni's collection of poetry, Black Judgment (1968)


Reading - Short Enough to Read Aloud.


Diversity and DifferenceHeritage and TraditionRace, Ethnicity and Culture

Big Questions

How do we learn to have dialogue across difference? What does it look like?How do we recognize sameness but acknowledge difference(s)?What assumptions do we make about others?How have my past and heritage shaped me?How does my race, culture or ethnicity shape who I am?How does race affect our relations to others?What assumptions do we make about people from different races, ethnicities and cultures?


Taking Action

Sample Discussion Questions

  1. Why are childhood memories "always a drag/if you're Black"?
  2. If the speaker becomes famous, why won't white biographers describe the happy moments of her childhood?
  3. According to the speaker, who can accurately understand or describe her childhood? What does she expect us to learn from reading this poem?
  4. Is it possible to separate assumptions from the reality of another's background? How would this be accomplished?
  5. What does it mean to really know about someone else's background or childhood?
  6. Is it possible to understand someone else's background if you don't share their race? Is race the defining factor in understanding or are there other things that determine whether we can understand someone else?
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