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Giovanni takes Hughes Award

By Sally Harris

Spectrum Volume 19 Issue 24 - March 20, 1997

Nikki Giovanni, renowned poet and professor of English at Virginia Tech, has received the prestigious Langston Hughes Award for 1996.

The award is presented annually to one or more individuals who have made distinguished contributions to arts and letters. It is given by The City College of The City University of New York in honor of Langston Hughes, a great Harlem poet and playwright. Previous award winners include James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, Ralph W. Ellison, Alice Walker, and Maya Angelou.

The award was presented to Giovanni during the Langston Hughes Festival at the City College. The program included tributes to Giovanni and a critical assessment of her work. Yolanda T. Moses, president of The City College, presented the award.

Festival Director Eugene Nesmith said in the program honoring Giovanni, "Like Hughes, she has always been a poet of the people. Although her poetry remains simple and direct, it continues to speak forcefully to the desires, heartache and rage of the ordinary African-American." Nesmith also said that, "unafraid of controversy or standing alone, {Giovanni} was one of the pioneering and heroic voices of the sixties who articulated the rage suppressed by previous generations."

After coming into contact, during her college years, with the principles of the "black-power" movement, Giovanni went on to study social work at the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University. She published her first book of poetry, Black Feeling, Black Talk, in 1968 and the second, Black Judgment, in 1969, becoming a voice for the movement. The Amsterdam News named Giovanni Most Admired Black Woman of 1969.

When her son was born, Giovanni began writing poetry for youngsters, including the books Spin a Soft Black Song in 1971 and The Sun is So Quiet in 1996; but she continued writing about the issues of the day in works such as My House, published in 1972, and Cotton Candy on a Rainy Day, published in 1978. Her works include books of essays, such as Sacred Cows...and other Edibles published in 1988 and Racism 101 published in 1994. The Selected Poems of Nikki Giovanni was published in 1996, and her most recent book is the just-published Love Poems.

"Her work and life have made Nikki Giovanni a cultural icon," according to the Langston Hughes Festival program. "It is the Giovanni personality that captivates above all else. The genius of this woman is extraordinary sensitivity and perceptiveness, which has given her the ability to express what others only feel, and that has made her a spokeswoman for the aspirations and racial sensitivities of African-American women and men these past three decades."