Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Her Poetry's Influence on Others

BOND: I look at your vita. I mean, the output is enormous. I'm just amazed. I thought I had followed your life and career, but I was just amazed to see, you know, this long, long line of publications, of records, of compilations and so on. Just enormous. And I'm not able to weigh it against some of these other figures, but I'm just guessing that by volume alone, you're far ahead of these people, many of whom are your contemporaries, older, a little older, but they are your contemporaries. But I wonder, did the fact that they existed -- [Amiri] Baraka and the others -- existed, and they were poets, what did that mean to you regardless of how hard they worked?

GIOVANNI: Well, because Baraka, and please, I hope I didn't just say --


GIOVANNI: -- that Baraka didn't work, because Baraka did. I was talking about -- we were talking about --

BOND: No, I don't think any of them would take umbrage with what you've said.

GIOVANNI: Okay, because again I was about to say LeRoi -- but as LeRoi Jones and moving into and on with Baraka -- was an enormous output. I think that that's important. I learned from that because I remember when he was saying, "You know, we're not going to publish with white people." That made sense to me. "Okay, that makes sense. Let me listen to that." But in the meantime, of course, there was -- Blackfire was under contract with William Morrow. So I'm thinking, "Okay, I understand what he's saying, but I also understand why he's doing what he's doing, and so I'm not going to let what he's saying interfere with what I should do because I see what he has to do also." So he and Larry edited -- Larry Neal -- edited Blackfire. It was always going to come through William Morrow or Random House, you know, through one or the other.

So when people were saying, "We're not going to do that," it's like, "Well, you're not going to do that if we have other alternatives." Of course, I was happy to work with Broadside Press. Dudley Mann [Dudley Randall] was a great man, and Vivian is a wonderful woman. And Vivian held on even after Dudley's death. It's just recently been sold. But I'm not going to let an ideology prevent me from doing what I think I should do, which is I should get the idea out. I should do that, you know.

BOND: I guess what I'm trying to get at is, here's Baraka and these other people and they are poets. So people say "Well, he's a poet, or she's a poet, or she's -- " What kind of influence did that have on you, that there are people who are making a success of this, there are people who are making a living at this and there are people who are recognized as doing this? What kind of standard did that set for you? I know you worked harder than they did.

GIOVANNI: No, no. I didn't mean it like that. And you were just saying -- we were talking about the Village scene as compared to the Uptown scene.

BOND: Right. I guess I mean in a more general way.

GIOVANNI: I would say none.

BOND: Really? Because you know you said that when you were in school --

GIOVANNI: But I don't think I have any influence.

BOND: Oh, Nikki, you have enormous influence.

GIOVANNI: I know what you're saying but I -- and I enjoy the conversation --

BOND: Don't you think there are people who see you today and say, "Nikki Giovanni is a poet. That means I can be one too"? "Doesn't mean I'm going to be as good as she is. But I'm seeing this -- "

GIOVANNI: No, I think that people --

BOND: " -- black woman do this and it's something until I saw her I didn't imagine I could do." You don't think there are people like that?

GIOVANNI: I don't think there are people who are going to do it, who say that.

And I'm -- I was just going to mention Queen Latifah because she's a kid that I really, really like a lot, and I was able to -- Essence magazine called me and said "You know we put in a query to Queen Latifah and asked her, if she could talk to anybody on earth, who would it be? And she chose you." I was like "Oh my God," because I'm such a Queen Latifah fan. I love what she's done -- and she was working on a movie. And this was the promise. You're her senior so she knows that she should come to you. I said, "You know what kind of sense -- this is a kid who is breaking into the movies -- what kind of sense does that make? I'm -- I'm in my sunset years. I can clear a couple of days to fly out to California. You know, she's building a career, for God's sake. Anybody can stand on that." So I went out to California.

She was like,"I can't believe you did that." It was like "Dana" -- her name is Dana -- "Dana, it's not that I did it. It's that when you get to where I am and there's somebody who wants to talk to you, you'll do it."

And that's what -- so when you were saying "leadership" -- that's what I'm hoping that I've shared, that it's what you give, and how you give it. But you're saying, "Just knowing that they're out there, doesn't it make a difference?" No. It can't. Because nobody -- and, of course, she should have won the Academy Award for Chicago because she was brilliant -- but nobody starts a career based on "Oh, now that I've seen it -- now that Halle Berry won the Academy Award I know I can be an actress." That's ridiculous.

BOND: That doesn't -- I hope that's not what I mean.