Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

A Poet's Constituency

BOND: I asked you before -- after the publication of these first poems and then the publication, the second publication, did you then think, "I am a leader"? By leader I don't mean leading thousands of people down the street in a march, but a leader -- "I'm speaking to all these people and they're listening to me." Did you have a conception of yourself then?

GIOVANNI: I had a conception that I have a constituency, yes.

BOND: A following.

GIOVANNI: Well, a constituency. It's not a following because we're not going to do anything. And so --

BOND: We're going to listen. Or we're going to read.

GIOVANNI: Well, that was good, but I didn't want anything. I think that's important. I'm not a politician. I'm not the kind of artist that needs validation with hit. So I never wanted to put myself in that position. And nothing probably surprised me more than when I made a recording it was a hit. I was actually in Africa when it came out, and I was running into people. You know, I was in Nigeria and people said, "I really, I love what you did on that album," because it was an album then, and I was like, "What album?" because I had no concept.

And when we came back -- I was in Africa for a month, just doing west Africa. When I came back, they announced on the plane, "Nikki Giovanni, press your button." So I pressed my button. The stewardess came back. She said, "We'd like you to wait until the other people -- " I thought, "Well, they finally got me." You know, it was one of those "What did I do? They finally got me."

And when I came off, it was the reporters were there, the Billboard entertainment reporters."What are you going to do -- what do you have to say about the hit?" It was like, "You mean that -- you know, my album?" You know it's like, "Yeah. It's a hit, it's in constant rotation." So I was really -- I'm pleased. I'm happy and I'm proud. You know, that kind of thing.

But I think my job is still to be on the edge, which is why we came to a book that love so very much called Quilting the Black-Eyed Pea. I'm not a public intellectual. You know, I don't think like that either. But it seems to me like there ought to be -- there's an edge someplace. And since what I -- my contribution is I think, right? So I'm always pushing for the edge. I don't ever want to -- I don't want to repeat myself and I don't want to get comfortable where I am. I want to go and see -- and push it, and if I fall, I fall and if I don't, I've got a new idea. That's what makes me happy.

I don't see me starving to death. I'm an American black woman with a college degree. So I'm not going to stave to death, and I'm not going to let anybody make me think I am. You see? I'm just not going to go to that place. I'm not going to be afraid for my life, as I said because what did King say? “Longevity has its place,” and anybody would like to live a long time. But America is not right. And nobody listens to me in America, but if they did they would stop making enemies, and make the world a better place to be, but I had nothing to do with being an American. I only have something to do with being Nikki. And I know that there's nobody on Earth that's against Nikki.