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Giovanni donates books to start black-studies library

By Sally Harris

Spectrum Volume 19 Issue 15 - December 12, 1996

Nikki Giovanni wanted the Black Studies Program at Virginia Tech to have a living library-a collection of books students wouldn't be afraid to handle and read-so she gathered up all the multiple copies of books by and about blacks that she'd collected over the years and started the library with a donation of about 200 volumes.

"Part of the fun of reading a book is to grab a hotdog and Coke and eat while you read-get the food and pile it up in front of you and get into another world," Giovanni said. "I get a lot of free books. I can share."

The Black Studies Program will take care of the books, which range from The Mis-Education of the Negro, a historical study by the late sociologist Carter G. Woodson, to W.E.B. Dubois's The Souls of Black Folks to the novels of Richard Wright, Giovanni said. However, "they don't have to keep the books in such condition that nobody can enjoy them," she said.

Giovanni's desire for a usable library stems from a childhood incident. In the fourth grade, she read a book about dinosaurs called Cave Twins. "My grandmother baked `dinosaur eggs,'" she said. Then, though her mother told her not to have the book near the bubble liquid she was playing with, she knocked the liquid over and ruined the library book.

"Mother had to buy it for about $2, really a lot of money then," Giovanni said. "We kept the book. Before I came here, I had the book shellacked to remind me why people need something they can mess up, a living library. If they spill coffee on a page, you'll know this is a page somebody read."

A book, Giovanni said, is supposed to work. "It's not a dilettante, it's not a debutante, and it will get torn. It's nice to see a book somebody has read."

Giovanni intends to keep adding books to the library and hopes other faculty members, not just in Black Studies, will donate books by and about blacks so the students in that program and in the humanities will have books they can read at their leisure.

"I hope we can build a predominantly black library because those can sometimes be the hardest books to find," Giovanni said.

The books are housed in 256 Lane, according to Joyce Williams-Green, director of the Black Studies Program in the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies. Anyone wishing to donate books should call Williams-Green at 1-5812 or Larissa Chadwick at 1-7615.

"Compared to many black-studies programs and departments, our program is very small with limited resources and nominal faculty and staff," Williams-Green said. "However, we are strong on commitment and faculty and administrative support from specific areas, as well as community support. Nikki has donated her time to assist with curriculum development and teaching. This gift from Nikki is only one of many from her. However, it is an example of the kind and quality of support that we have received from committed faculty and staff members, and members of the New River Valley community."