Poet captivates Chico crowd

Published 2005-02-23T00:00:00Z”/>


Coreen Larson<br>Staff Writer

Nikki Giovanni is a tiny woman with an enormous passion for words and thoughts, history and nature.

Students and community members crowded the aisles of Harlen Adams Theatre to listen to the poet speak in honor of Black History Month Friday night. With grace and ease she walked through the crowd, greeting audience members and familiar faces before taking the stage.

The crowd was captivated by her funny stories sprinkled with political commentary. While the audience laughed, following along with her stories and ideas, she seamlessly transitioned into poems, which read like journal entries, eloquently expressing private thoughts.

The readings gave the listeners the sense they were there when events happened, stories were observed or scenes of nature were taken in.

English professor Tracy Butts said she has had the chance to experience a number of Giovanni’s readings.

“If you have not, then you owe it to yourself to find out what I mean and to experience Giovanni first hand,” Butts said.

When Giovanni took the stage she thanked Butts for such a warm introduction and told the audience that she had been Butts’ professor many years ago at Virginia Tech. An audience member shouted, “You did a good job!” which was followed by scattered applause throughout the audience.

It was clear from the many students with notebooks that some of the audience members were attending the reading to fulfill class requirements. But for the hour that Giovanni spoke, the audience was with her, following every word and relating to her ideas.

Giovanni spoke frankly about slavery. She described what it must have been like for early Africans who were taken from their free land to America where they were treated like aliens; probed, sold, beaten and separated from their families. She commended the slaves for “holding onto themselves without going crazy.”

Giovanni inspired the audience members to know themselves, to remember the slaves and remember that “you can’t make a slave out of someone who knows themselves.”

Giovanni said African Americans were struggling to re-create the black family. After families were torn apart, the enslaved had to form new families wherever they were forced to live and work. Mothers had to instill in their children values and family history early and consistently because of the constant fear that they could be separated from at any time.

She explained the positive things she witnessed during the bad days following her treatment for lung cancer. She recalled a cold winter where she watched nature’s wonders outside her living room window.

Her poetic words and the powerful way she belted them out emphasized her point without having to spell it out.

Nature was an element in her healing when she was sick. Without saying it plainly, she let the audience know that life breeds life.

There was a rhythm in her reading. She brought the audience to its knees with her insightful comedy, she told serious compelling stories of slavery, she shared sickness and triumph and she ended with a life-affirming poem describing a woman of great confidence “I am a beautiful woman … I am so hip even my errors are correct … I can fly … Like a bird.” With this positive note she left the stage.

A world-class speaker, Giovanni was celebrating a Grammy nomination this time last year. She has won three NAACP Image Awards for her books, “Love Poems”, “Blues: For All the Changes” and “Quilting the Black-Eyed Pea.”

Giovanni conveys what it has always meant to be African American, to be a strong woman, to feel down, to be empowered and to be alive through her stories and through her poems.

Coreen Larson can be reached at

<a href= “mailto:[email protected]”>[email protected]</a>