Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

"Black Feeling, Black Talk"

GIOVANNI: But the deal was, in two years you should have completed a book-length manuscript. Well, I completed a book the first year, and having done so and it is poetry, I said, "Well, who's going to publish my poetry, right?" Nobody. I mean who is going to be interested in this? So I called my grandmother and a few friends and I asked my grandmother for $500 dollars because I knew she had it. And I asked a few other people to make it a loan and I had the book published, right. I'm not a bad business woman. I'm not ever going to be rich, but rich was never an object for me.

So I had the book, Black Feeling, Black Talk. I had a thousand copies of it, so I have to sell it, right? So I went to...Book Store --

BOND: In Harlem.

GIOVANNI: -- in Harlem, right, and Robin's Book Store in Philadelphia, City Lights in California. I sent around -- I sent five copies here, five copies there. Asked the people to sell it. Do you know nobody cheated me? They sold them. You'd get these little checks for three dollars, you know. And I thought, "Okay, if you're going to do that -- and this was like Business 101 -- if you're going to do that, the business has to be separate -- which we need to probably still teach, having watched the executives really loot their companies. But business has to be separated from the person.

So I had the business account which meant that I needed to make $700 in this account to take that book back, right. If I tampered with that then I wouldn't know if I had actually made the money. But I said to Columbia, you know, "I did it. I did the book, and it's out and I published it and it's copyrighted and it's in the Library of Congress and it's a nice book and it got reviewed in the minor presses -- not the major presses -- but in the minor presses. And so I want my MFA." They said, "No, no, Miss Giovanni, it's a two-year program." You know how people say "it's a two-year program"?

"You have to complete the second year." I thought, "No," to myself, "that's not going to work for me."

So I had to think that one through. I said, "Okay." So I re-enrolled and I went down -- because I had a scholarship from Ford -- I went down to the comptroller's office and I said, "I'm Nikki Giovanni." I presented all that. I said, "I want my check." She said, "No, Miss Giovanni, we don't give that. That check comes from Ford to Columbia and it pays your tuition." I said, "That's racist of you because you're saying I can't -- I don't know how to handle the money, you know. So that's terribly racist of you," and "Who do I talk to about this? Because I'm shocked." I said, "I didn't realize this, but I'm shocked. I put a year in here and I should be -- I'm grown -- " I was twenty-four years old. She said, "Oh, no. You'd have to talk to -- "

It ended up I talked to one of the vice presidents who said the same thing -- race cards work every now and then. I said, "All right, I can't believe -- but if you want to keep my money you keep it, because I'm gone." So we worked it out. "So here, we're going to give you your check," which I really wanted because it was my check. I didn't want to go back to Columbia because I didn't see wasting time.