Monday, July 1, 2019

"The presence of Nikki Giovanni ... was extraordinary"

Artist Carmin Wong had Giovanni laughing and laughing

Can you imagine attending a week-long seminar on the works of a writer whose work and career you deeply admire, and interacting with that author the entire week as you examine her works? Well, that's what happened for about 55 artists and educators at the Nikki Giovanni seminar hosted by Furious Flower.

Those artists and educators spent the week studying Giovanni's works with the poet herself in attendance. Furious Flower has done these kinds of projects before, focusing on Lucille Clifton, Sonia Sanchez, and Yusef Komunyakaa. This Giovanni seminar extended those past events, and was the largest one in the series offered by Furious Flower.

Between sessions, Giovanni signed books and discussed poetry and life, one-on-one, with participants. I was especially struck by a series of images taken of Giovanni with participant Carmin Wong, who is earning a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing at the University of New Orleans. In the photographs, you see Giovanni intently listening as Wong speaks. And then, the two embrace.

Giovanni is a wonderful storyteller and known for her willingness to talk about a dozen thises and thats beyond poetry during a poetry reading. But in more images than I can count at the seminar, you see Giovanni in rapt attention as various participants talk and share with her. 

At one point, Wong is the lead storyteller-entertainer for her audience: Nikki Giovanni. The prolific and renowned author laughs, listens, and laughs some more as the emergent artist puts on a narrative show.

Senior poet Nikki Giovanni listens to emergent artist Carmin Wong 

Since she was a child, poet and educator Amy Alvarez had been reading Giovanni's work, thus having such close contact with the senior poet was a treat and honor. "The presence of Nikki Giovanni and her biographer Virginia C. Fowler was extraordinary. It is a rare privilege to have a writer and an expert on their life in the room as a group discusses their work."

Gabrielle Oliver, another participant, agreed. "This particular learning experience was so unique in that we had full access to Nikki for an entire week," said Oliver, a recent college graduate, who majored in English and Japanese Language and Culture at Howard University. "Even though there is time and space in traditional classroom settings to ask instructors questions; the fact that we spent mornings, lunch, afternoons, and sometimes evenings with Nikki presented us with a very rare opportunity to not just ask her questions about her own life and life work, but also questions about ourselves or for general, life-related advice."

During the seminar, Giovanni insisted that participants refer to her as simply "Nikki," not "Giovanni" or "Professor Giovanni." "Just call me 'Nikki,'" she said over and over to us.

Angel C. Dye said that she was particularly moved by "the storytelling and oral histories I heard from Giovanni, her friends, and her partner and biographer Dr. Virginia Fowler." What was encountered during the seminar, Dye explained, "I could not have found in articles or journals or anywhere. Those [personal stories] were the culmination of decades of lived experiences that can't be captured in any other way except through oral tradition."

A notebook on the Furious Flower Nikki Giovanni seminar

No comments: