This post is from Brad Krautwurst, who is interning with the Richmond Public Library in Virginia.
Last Wednesday, June 27th, as part of the teen summer reading program here at Richmond Public Library, the poet, activist, children's novelist, and teacher Nikki Giovanni spoke and signed books. The event was, like the Girls of Summer event before it, a huge success. I am certain there were at least 200 people there, and several lines from Giovanni got rounds of applause and laughter, culminating in a standing ovation.
Giovanni spoke about everything from billionaires and income inequality to her thoughts on global warming to outhouses. Indeed, she noted linguistic differences between poor people and rich, joking that "if you're poor, you're crazy, if you're rich, you're just eclectic!" She talked about her childhood, and how living on a property that contained an outhouse never caused her to think about how poor her family was, but rather about how hard her parents were working to keep them where they were. The speaking was interspersed with several poetry readings, one from her early career, "Ego Tripping (there may be a reason why)," which you can read here.
She also spoke to the young people in the audience about the importance of reading, and how reading transmits history. She told a story about the Fisk Jubilee Singers (which I encourage you to read about here, if you are so inclined), of Fisk University--Giovanni's alma mater--and asked, "Now why hasn't that been turned into a movie?" Essentially, she was encouraging children and teenagers to read, both to know about historical civil rights leaders outside of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, not, of course to belittle their historical achievements and importance, but merely to point out that there are many other lesser-known civil rights leaders.
Indeed, she spoke about education, and of the many flaws in the United States public education system. She wants children and teenagers to reorient the "why" of their education, insisting that they are not there merely to memorize facts or get good grades, but that "you are there to change the world!" There will certainly be no objections from me there.
Overall, as I opened with, the event was a definite success. I found Giovanni to be an inspiring and thoughtful speaker, and was definitely moved to check out some of her poetry.
You are in school to change the world!
--Nikki Giovanni, activist, poet, and teacher