The Voice of Nikki Giovanni
You have a voice, use it. Never let anybody take your voice away from you.
I’ve been sick this past week with a cold (or whatever’s going around Lynchburg—I’m still sneezing a week later!). Not too many years ago, I would have kept right on going, and I would have gotten frantic about all the things I wasn’t getting done because I was too sick to do them.
But I’ve learned a lot in recent months about taking care of myself, and these days listening to my body is doing something.
So when the sneezing started, I put myself to bed with my newest favorite medicine: podcasts.
Have you discovered the wonder of podcasts? It’s like having a direct line to other voices out there in the world and discovering how they go about this business of being a human. Since I upgraded my Iphone earlier this year and discovered that I could actually subscribe to podcasts, I’ve become a podcast junkie. When a new episode is available I hear a ping on my phone and, like magic, there it is.
And since I’m also an NPR junkie, it’s no surprise that my favorite podcasts are Dear Sugar Radio, Modern Love, The Moth, Fresh Air, and On Being.
What do all of these NPR podcasts have in common?
They tell stories and ask questions and give voice to the full range of human experience.
My favorite favorite episodes? Those that interview writers about their writing and their vision and how they see themselves as a voice of change in the world.
Small order, I know.
But sometimes when you heed the needs of your body and put yourself to bed the stars align and your Iphone pings and alerts you that the latest episode of On Being has arrived and holy goddess of goddesses the newest episode features NIKKI GIOVANNI!
Nikki Giovanni, for those of you who don’t yet know her, is a woman who knows who she is—a black American woman poet whose voice began shaping American culture during the civil rights movement and continues to steer us in the direction of her vision, a vision that reminds us again and again that love is the foundation of who we are as humans.
Because she was a smart young woman—she’s now in her seventies—and she knew she was smart, she decided that her voice would be the thing she put to use in this world.
And use her voice she does. When she was 25, she described herself as a revolutionary poet. Over half a century later, she continues to put her experience as a black American woman into words and craft her words into art that touches the human spirit and shapes our culture.
“My grandmother did not waste,” Giovanni says, “There was nothing that came into her kitchen that she didn’t find a use for. And I feel the same way with experience and with words. And as I have grown older, I refuse to let who I was at 25 inform or make me be who somebody else thinks I should be at 72.”
See what I mean?
She goes on to say, “So we’re always trying to just tell the truth as we understand it, and I want my students to understand that. You have a voice, use it. Never let anybody take your voice away from you. That’s what’s important. And don’t waste — I’ll go back to that — don’t waste what you know. You’d be surprised at how many people actually waste what they know, not to mention waste what they feel.”
Ah, what a way to think about human experience: every “scrap” useful; indeed, nourishing.
The only difference between Nikki Giovanni and other people? As she puts it, with her spirited laugh, “I’m not afraid to talk about it.”
Today I share with you the voice of Nikki Giovanni. May she inspire you to push past fear and use your voice to make use of what you know and what you feel, even if you are, well, afraid to talk about it.
You can access the On Being podcast and transcript of Krista Tippett’s interview with Nikki Giovanni here.
What are your favorite podcasts? Let me know in the comments below. I’d love to add them to my medicine cabinet; I mean, subscriptions list.