Nikki Giovanni

One of the most prolific Black poets in the world, Nikki Giovanni has continued to inspire many with her life story and beautiful poems.

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Nikki Giovanni, also known as Yolande Cornelia, was born on June 7th, 1943. An American poet, writer, activist, commentator and teacher, Nikki has established herself as one of the world’s most well known Black/African American poets. She was born in Knoxville, Tennessee where she lived for a very brief period of time before her family moved to Cincinnati. In 1948, her family moved from Cincinnati, to Wyoming, Ohio. Around this time, Yolande’s sister began calling her “Nikki”. This is how she started using the name that she uses so often today. In 1960, Nikki chose to go to her grandfather’s alma mater, Fisk University in Tennessee. She was an “early entrant” applicant meaning that you could enter college without having gotten your High school degree. Her adjustment into college wasn’t necessarily the easiest, and she immediately got expelled. Nikki claims that to be a good thing, however, because it gave her the opportunity to think about what kind of life she really wanted to lead. She realized that she needed an education in order to harness her natural ability; she knew she was a gifted and smart individual. It was around this time that Nikki chose to drive back to Knoxville in order to potentially find herself and what she was truly passionate about. After some time, the Dean at Fisk University helped Nikki get readmitted into the program to which she finally ended up graduating. After graduating from Fisk, Nikki went to pursue a degree in the School of Social Work at the University of Pennsylvania which only lasted for about a semester. She later went to Columbia College in New York, where she pursued a Masters in Fine Arts degree. Although she still didn’t earn a degree from Columbia, Nikki wrote a lot during that time and began to find more of what she wanted to get out of life. Eventually, because many publishers were uninterested in publishing Nikki’s poetry, she published everything herself. She also published her second book, which received a lot of attention because she launched it at a Jazz Club, Birdland, in New York. Since her career took a boom, Nikki has served as a professor at Virginia Tech, has been awarded 7 NAACP image awards and has three New York and Los Angeles Times Best Sellers. Nikki is an iconic poet and continues to inspire many. 

– Cooper Cromwell-Whitley

This profile was created in 2022 as part of The Savvy Singer, an EXCEL Lab course at the University of Michigan, School of Music, Theatre, and Dance and a collaboration with the Hampsong Foundation via the Classic Song Research Initiative.



Giovanni, Nikki. “Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia”. 2022. 

Martin, Michel. “Poet Nikki Giovanni On the Darker Side of Her Life”. National Public Radio. 29, Oct, 2013; accessed 6 Dec, 2022. 

Giovanni, Nikki. “Nikki Giovanni”. 2022. 

Related Information


Truth is On Its Way

(Nikki Giovanni)

One Ounce of Truth

(Nikki Giovanni)



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