Campus News

Nikki Giovanni visits campus, speaks on strength of black women

Nikki Giovanni, one of the world’s best-known living poets, delivered the keynote address in UW-Madison’s Black History Month lecture series.

Image By: Catherine Goslin

The widely celebrated poet, educator and activist Nikki Giovanni honored the spirituality and strength of black women Wednesday evening as the keynote speaker in a continued Black History Month lecture series.

Students and members of the campus community packed into the Symphony Room at Gordon Commons for Giovanni’s highly anticipated appearance in Madison. Giovanni is known throughout the world for her poetry dealing with race, gender and social justice, and is currently a professor at Virginia Tech University.

The lecture, entitled “Black Joy: Getting Black to Happiness” was presented by the Black History Month Planning Committee and the Wisconsin Union’s Distinguished Lecture Series and was free for all students, faculty, staff and Union members.

Giovanni opened her lecture by discussing the role that black women have played in history and continue to play today. She enticed the audience by using poetic language and phrasing, especially in a discussion of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade and its relation to the Bible.

“We were put into ships and sent to America,” Giovanni said. “You know when we got to that tenth day in the middle of the water and knew there was going to be a rebellion, and you know in that rebellion, we’re gonna lose. And they’re gonna put us back down.”

She went on to emphasize the strength of black women, one of the overarching themes of her presentation.

“We know that when we were put back down, there was no way for someone to say ‘We’re gonna be alright,’” Giovanni said. “They had find to a way, and it had to be a black woman, because that’s what black women do. She had to find a way to comfort.”

While Giovanni is known for her poignancy in discussing weighty subjects, she proved in her lecture to be an adept comedian, frequently making the audience laugh.

“Women are wonderful—I can see why men want to control them,” Giovanni said, to laughter.

Near the end of her presentation, Giovanni addressed the topic of representation of black women, praising the film “Hidden Figures” and stressing the need for black women “to be in space.”

“We’ve got to get black women into space. We got to get that imagination in space. Because somebody has to go up there and say ‘Oh, I can handle this,’” Giovanni said. “And we all know that black women are incredible.” 

UPDATE Feb. 16, 12:58 p.m.: This article has been updated to reflect the Black History Month Planning Committee's involvement in presenting the lecture, as well as the correct title of the event. The Daily Cardinal regrets this error. 

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