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Contributor Spotlight on Nikki Giovanni

by Dan Froid

In our new issue, we announce the winners of the 2014 Prairie Schooner writing awards. So this week, we’re taking a look at one of our past winners—and of the most distinguished living poets in America. Nikki Giovanni has published seventeen poetry collections, in addition to children’s books, essays, records, and collected conversations. Her most recent work is Chasing Utopia: A Hybrid (William Morrow, 2013). She’s also earned countless literary awards as well as many other accolades, including the keys to more than two dozen American cities, a number of honorary degrees, and an unmatched seven NAACP Image Awards, which honor people of color in literature, music, film, and television.

Last year, Giovanni won the Hugh J. Luke Award for two poems that appeared in our fall 2014 issue: “When My Phone Trembles for D’Angelo” and “The Scared and the Vulnerable.” Here’s an excerpt of the former:

When my phone
Trembles
After midnight
I never think
   of good news:
   Someone’s birthday
   
An overseas friend
         
Forgetting
         
The time difference

I never smell
     
Apples baking
     
Or nutmeg dancing
    On sweet potatoes
    Yeast rolls rising
     
Fish frying

Read more here (with access to Project MUSE).

On March 26 of this year, she along with six other educators was inducted into the University of Tennessee Educators Hall of Honor. Sandy Banks interviewed Giovanni recently, during which, as Banks puts it, “I figured we'd talk about race and youth and violence. Instead we talked about sea turtles and space travel.”

Read more about Giovanni’s publications and upcoming events on her website, where you can also watch several readings and lectures. And for more information about the winners of our writing awards, check out our latest issue.