An inveterate reader, but not of fiction
Longtime writer, poet and activist Nikki Giovanni published her first collection of poems, “Black Feeling, Black Talk,” in 1968.The book was inspired by the death of her grandmother and the rise of the civil rights movement. Since then she’s won a long list of awards and published a long list of books, including her newest “A Good Cry,” a volume of poems, short stories, and essays about the people she’s known, and the life she has lived.
BOOKS: What are you reading currently?
GIOVANNI: I’m reading James Baldwin’s “The Cross of Redemption.” his uncollected writings. I knew Jimmy and loved him. He was such a good essayist, and I wanted to read somebody who was talking about the world we live in. Jimmy practically predicted that there would be a fool in the White House. I intensely dislike our president.
BOOKS: If you could have President Trump read one book, what would it be?
GIOVANNI: There is nothing that will save that kind of man other than being in a hospital. That’s like thinking if Hitler read a good book he would have changed. I’m not going to be a fool and think if we could get Trump to read a book everything’s going to be OK.
BOOKS: Does knowing an author change the reading experience of his work?
GIOVANNI: To be honest I read so little in terms of fiction, and I know only a couple of novelists, Toni Morrison and Edwidge Danticat. They are always a pleasure to read.
BOOKS: Was that always the case with fiction for you?
GIOVANNI: I don’t know why, but yes.
BOOKS: Is it safe to assume you read a lot of poetry?
GIOVANNI: Not a lot of, but Kwame Dawes, of course, because he’s brilliant. My good friend, the poet Kwame Alexander, won the Newbery Medal [for “The Crossover” in 2015]. And I thought that maybe what I should do is read all the Newbery winners. It’s been good because I read “Holes” by Louis Sachar and some other Newberys I would have overlooked. My favorite book in the whole world is “Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH” by Robert C. O’Brien. If I could come back and be anybody in the world I would be Mrs. Frisby.
BOOKS: Do you have a favorite author?
GIOVANNI: I guess it would have to be Toni Morrison. I loved “Sula.” One of my favorite writers I turn to is the poet Robert Hayden. His “Those Winter Sundays” shows you what love can do. I’m a space freak and think we should send some authors into space. Thinking of what they need to take, they need to take poetry. If you were going into space for 20 years, like the spacecraft we sent to Saturn, you couldn’t take a novel because you can’t keep rereading it. If you took the 100 best poems it would be wonderful because every time you read a poem you get something different.
BOOKS: Were there readers in your family?
GIOVANNI: My grandfather, who taught Latin, was a big reader and a big storyteller. My grandparents also took the Bible seriously, so you got a lot of Bible stories. My mother was a reader. She really loved Bob Hayden and Maya [Angelou]. One of the reasons I loved Maya is that she was always nice to my mother.
BOOKS: What’s your ideal setting for reading?
GIOVANNI: I have a wonderful place in Aruba. I would go there and sit on the beach and have my Kindle. I would sit in the sun and read and when it got hot I would move to the shade and drink lemonade.
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