Written by: Nikki Giovanni
Published By: Perennial
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
When one of my friends discovered that I was a fan of poetry, she decided to share with me the fruits of her favorite poet, and so, for Christmas one year, she sent me My House by Nikki Giovanni. For those of you who don’t know who Nikki Giovanni is, let me give you some background. Nikki Giovanni is a Grammy-nominated poet, activist and author. Her poetry is inspired by African American activists and artists; some of her earliest published works inspired by the Civil Rights and Black Power movements. She is the author over 30 books and her writing has gone on to inspire many others, including a number of modern day singers and songwriters. In 2004 Giovanni was nominated for a Best Spoken Word Grammy for her album The Nikki Giovanni Poetry Collection. She has received three NAACP Image Awards and The Chicago Public Library Foundation's Carl Sandburg Literary Award for lifetime achievement.
The forward of My House is written by Ida Lewis, former editor-in-chief of Essence magazine. As we read the forward, it is clear that Ida Lewis is describing an extremely independent black woman who has a clear view of what she wants out of life and a willingness to work hard to reach her goals. This is a woman greatly respected by Ida Lewis for her presence as well as for the body of her work. Lewis explains that the works published in My House tell the reader a story about Nikki Giovanni; that many of the works included in this publication were inspired by people and occurrences in Nikki’s life.
As we read the poetry of Nikki Giovanni, there is a clear timeline established. Without even looking at the dates of each poem, we can immediately understand which poems were inspired by the Civil Rights and Black Power movements, which poems were inspired by members of her family, which were written about her young son and which were dedicated to special moments in her life. Although I am not a big fan of the spoken word poetry genre, I can see why Nikki Giovanni is well-respected in her field. Her poetry gives the reader vision – she paints a picture for the reader with her words. Situations in her poetry are easy to relate to, such as Scrapbooks, in which a woman reflects on the memories of her past and what she can pass on to her family in the future. Categories is a poem that any woman could admire as all of us, at one time or another, has been lumped into a specific category whether we agreed with it or not. While some of the poetry in My House has incredibly deep meaning, some are beautiful in their simplicity. There is no misunderstanding the feelings described in The Butterfly, obviously dedicated to a former lover.
There are many important messages in the poetry of My House – messages of life, of love, of believing in yourself, political messages, and more. However, one cannot just read this poetry collection too quickly or they will miss many of the lessons to be learned. Nikki Giovanni’s My House is a must have for any fan of the spoken word genre as well as anyone studying the effects of the Civil Rights movement on American writers.