Monday, July 1, 2019

Nikki Giovanni seminar participants reflect on experiences

Nikki Giovanni and Angel C. Dye discuss "Ego Tripping"

After the Nikki Giovanni seminar hosted by Furious Flower, I followed up with four participants and asked them a few questions about their experiences. What follows are their responses. Biographical sketches on each of the respondents are below.

What's something really important you gained from participating in the Giovanni seminar?
I was very excited about the intellectual mixtape as a form of creative assessment for my students. I also gained meaningful friendships with fellow poets and educators. —Amy M. Alvarez

Whew. The week with Nikki Giovanni and her host of scholar-friends and students was so enriching. I left meditating on the ways that Giovanni's life as a an activist, a daughter, a sister, a friend, a teacher, and a lover are and always have been at the core of her poetry. She strongly emphasized to us the importance of writing and leaning into what we know, like really know, and using that to say the things that are most pressing on our hearts and minds. —Angel C. Dye

As a creative writing student entering my career as a collegiate educator, I was given a myriad of useful advice and guidance from group-based projects, structured seminars, questioning, and a number of wise conversations from just about everyone. Additionally, morning seminars, such as Dr. Rambsy’s, Dr. Crawford's, and Dr. Thompson’s were moments that left me with major takeaways both as a student of poetry and educator. “Wow!” is all I have said since. —Carmin Wong

Throughout the week spent at this seminar, and outside of merely learning about the life and work of Nikki Giovanni, I gained an essential way of thinking about and operating the world, and that is: making sure I am working to do justice to the ancestors. This was already something present in and important to my intellectual genealogy as a Black scholar, but hearing these words repeated by Nikki again and again made this mission a very personal one. Nikki has always worked to make people like her grandmother proud; and as I am now becoming aware of how I can use my skill in/dedication to writing to shed light on and tell the stories of underrepresented groups, I know that I will not be satisfied or make my family proud until I do just that. —Gabrielle Oliver
Giovanni and Carmin Wong talking life and poetry

What's a new, alternative, or even unexpected way you began thinking about Giovanni or her poetry as a result of participating in the seminar?
I began to realize that Giovanni's work is even more nuanced and complex than I originally realized. Her work is remarkable in its accessibility, but also in the multiple layers of meaning she weaves into the work through line breaks and diction. I also began to think about what makes Giovanni uniquely Appalachian as opposed to a Southern poet. —Amy M. Alvarez

The less-published and anthologized poems that we spent time with at the seminar really moved me. With a poet as famous and with such longevity as Giovanni has seen, I think it's easy to reduce their work to just the very popular works--I'm thinking "Ego-Tripping" and "Nikki-Rosa." But it was the poems that often get glossed over that gave me deeper insight into who Giovanni is as a person and writer. —Angel C. Dye

One participant said it best when she said, “I had always read Giovanni, but up until this moment, I realized I never really read Giovanni.” Placing Giovanni in conversation with Frederick Douglass, creating mixtapes from “Ego-Tripping (there may be a reason why)”, or even just discussing the title of a book like My House—nothing was off limits. Giovanni's work begs for scholars and readers to connect to the world, to art, to people around them, before them, and even after them. —Carmin Wong

Because of this seminar, I learned how under-reported and underrepresented Giovanni’s work is in the scholarly realm of poetry. I am not sure if this due to the politics of academia, but I assume that they might have something to do with it. —Gabrielle Oliver
Giovanni and Amy Alvarez

How do you plan to think or create differently as a result of your participation in the Giovanni seminar? Why?
I definitely had a shift in terms of how I think about my own writing and avoiding allusions that might alienate certain readers. Giovanni's work is supremely accessible while still plumbing great depths. I also am rethinking how I present and assess material in the writing classroom. —Amy M. Alvarez

I definitely am about to "be on my Giovanni," as Jamila Woods calls it. I am still working toward being unapologetic in my writing in the ways that Giovanni is. And I also want to continue interrogating and discovering what things I know intimately enough to say something impactful about them. The unabashed writing and the knowing have a close relationship in Giovanni's life and work; I am cultivating that in my own way. —Angel C. Dye

In a conversation about “Ego-Tripping,” we discussed how, though Giovanni wrote that remarkable poem, it was no longer hers, in a sense that everyone has/will bring to it their own experiences, their own performance, intellectualizing it as they will, and as they will make it their own. I think about Margaret Walker’s “For My people’—one of my favorite poems—and notice that’s what she did, too. As Giovanni would encourage, I want to create for myself. But I will to give, to my community of family, friends, kin, and skin (there must be a reason why). —Carmin Wong

Because of the Giovanni seminar, I plan to think and craft my writing in a more holistic way. No longer do I want to work to create change through my storytelling on my own, but I want to work together with others like me who have similar goals and values of uplifting humanity. —Gabrielle Oliver
Giovanni and Gabrielle Oliver

Biographical sketches on the interviewees
Amy M. Alvarez's poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Sugar House Review, Rattle, Storm Cellar, The New Guard Review, and elsewhere. She teaches English at West Virginia University.

Angel C. Dye is a poet and scholar of African-American Literature from Dallas-Ft. Worth, TX/Milwaukee, WI. Her work has been awarded by the Middle Atlantic Writers Association and the College Language Association and published in About Place Journal, The Pierian Journal, and African Voices Magazine.

Carmin Wong is a Guyanese-born poet, playwright, and second-year MFA student at the University of New Orleans. Wong has been featured in the 2018 Women’s Voice Theater Festival at the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts for her monologue, “3 Generations." She has performed in poetry slams and readings at Lincoln Center, The Apollo, The Nuyorican Poets Cafe, Scholastics Theater NYC, and for The Shakespeare Theater Company.

Gabrielle Oliver is a Howard University graduate with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English, as well as a degree in Japanese Language and Culture from her studies at Kansas Gaidai University in Osaka, Japan. She is both a poet and linguist from the DC area. She is the US State Department and Japan-America Society’s 2018-2019 Tanaka Green Scholar for her diachronic research on the aboriginal Ainu language of Japan.

A notebook on the Furious Flower Nikki Giovanni seminar

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