One of the most popular and acclaimed African-American poets of the 20th century, Nikki Giovanni came of age in the heady, militant era of the civil rights movement, and her most influential poetry was suffused with all the spirit and vitality of a new age. Giovanni was born Yolande Cornelia Giovanni Jr. in Knoxville, TN, on June 7, 1943; her family moved to Cincinnati shortly thereafter, but Giovanni returned to Knoxville to live with her grandparents in 1957. She was an early enrollee at Nashville's all-black Fisk University in 1960, but was dismissed before completing her first year; she returned to Cincinnati and worked for a few years, then returned to Fisk in 1964 to finish her B.A. While there, she served as an assistant in the writers' workshop and got involved in the university chapter of SNCC, a non-violent civil rights organization. After graduating, she moved to New York in 1968 to attend Columbia's School of Fine Arts, and published three poetry collections over 1968-1970 to considerable attention and acclaim.
In 1970, Giovanni established her own NikTom publishing company, and the following year recorded some of her most celebrated poems for the Right On label as Truth Is on Its Way, with gospel backing by the New York Community Choir. The record was a genuine hit, climbing all the way to number 15 on the R&B album charts. A second outing with the New York Community Choir, Like a Ripple on a Pond, was released on the NikTom imprint in 1973 and just missed the Top 50. Giovanni switched gears for her third musical outing, enlisting Arif Mardin to write backing music for 1975's The Way I Feel. Naturally, Giovanni stayed with her primary creative outlet as a poet during this time, in addition to lecturing across the country; motherhood brought a surge of poetry written for children, and Folkways issued two recordings in this vein, The Reason I Like Chocolate (1976) and Cotton Candy on a Rainy Day (1978); Folkways also put out another Giovanni recording, Legacies, in 1976. She continued to write and lecture through the '80s and '90s, and has served as a professor of English at Virginia Tech since the late '80s. A new recording taken from a 1997 live reading, In Philadelphia, was released on Collectables, which also reissued her first three albums on CD. ~ Steve Huey