Nikki Giovanni is a Virginia-based poet.
Blues: For All the Changes, Bicycles: Love Poems, Gemini
1973 National Book Award finalist (Gemini); 2004 Grammy nominee for spoken-word poetry (The Nikki Giovanni Poetry Collection); multiple NAACP Image Awards
Which one or two American books or plays would you recommend to the foreign leaders? Briefly, why?
That’s going to be a hard one. Sula by Toni Morrison is one of my very favorites and I reread it regularly. Good and Evil are not so easily defined, are they? I also think The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist Fight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie should definitely be in the briefcase. The Dew Breaker by Edwidge Danticat, because torture is a terrible thing and we must both stop torture and find a way of forgiving those who created this hell on earth. I would close my list with Leaving Atlanta by Tayari Jones, which takes a deep and powerful look at the Atlanta child murders.
Who in your childhood—for example, parent or teacher—encouraged you to read books, and which one or two books do you remember most fondly?
I have no recollection of not reading books and books not being read to me. My grandfather was a Latin scholar who told us tales of the Greek and Roman Gods; my mother was a lover of poetry and she, my sister and I would read and recite together. My father’s first gift to my mother was a book: A Bell For Adano by John Hersey. At one point our family lived in a home without indoor toilet facilities but Mother had a piano and a small library. I still have her books. My desire was to read All This And Heaven Too because it was big and way up and Mommy said I would not understand it. She was right but years later I saw the movie with Bette Davis and Charles Boyer. My very favorite books for my own age were the Mother West Wind series by Thornton Burgess. I adored Reddy Fox and His Granny. Loved Mother West Wind letting the Merry Breezes play in the meadow while she worked. It was so my own life.
Which books by writers of the other G8 countries (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, United Kingdom, Russia) have affected you as a reader and/or been most important to you as a writer?
Of course we all read, and had to read, the Russian classics. I found them trying, though my favorite Dostoevsky is Winter Notes on Summer Impressions. I thought an exile in Paris would be just the bees-knees though I never as an adult considered exile. I had an interest in the history of World War II and did some reading in that area, but my favorite books were the British. I adored Daphne Du Maurier and, quite naturally, Agatha Christie. But one of the books that recently shot up to one of my very favorites is The Elephant Keeper by Christopher Nicholson. It makes the top favorite new book, right along with Song Yet Sung by James McBride.