NIKKI GIOVANNI was born Yolande Cornelia Giovanni, Jr., on June 7, 1943, in Knoxville, Tennessee. Her father, Jones Giovanni, was a social worker and her mother, Yolande Cornelia Watson, was an employee of the Welfare Department; they had one other child, Nikki's older sister Gary. Giovanni entered Fisk University in 1960, was tossed out, and re-entered in 1964, when she became serious not only about her studies but also the growing black political movements. She also began to write at this time. She attended the Fisk Writers Workshop directed by John Oliver Killens and graduated from Fisk magna cum laude in February 1967. In that same year, she participated in the Cincinnati Black Arts Festival. Giovanni continued her education at the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Work with the help of a Ford Foundation Grant and, later, a National Foundation for the Arts Grant.
At an early age, Giovanni expressed doubts about the traditional institution of marriage. Her alternative, independent, and politically active life led to her decision to become an unwed mother. In 1971 her son Tommy was bom and she balanced her literary and political pursuits with an unfailing devotion to her son.
Giovanni's increasing interest in black identity and black history is revealed in her first two published books, Black Feeling, Black Talk (1968) and Black Judgement (1968). They are somewhat homogeneous in theme but varied in form, style, and tone (which ranges from militant to nostalgic). Many of the poems in these two collections touch upon political events, such as the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr., President Kennedy, and Malcolm X. These two books, initially published by a small press, were reissued in one volume in 1970.
A third collection of verse, Re:Creation (1970), continued along similar lines. But in 1971 Giovanni's first volume of children's verse appeared. Spin a Soft Black Song: Poems for Children is indeed much softer in tone, but much of her political vigor remains in these children's poems. She later