Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Being an Artist

BOND: Nikki, let me ask you about being an artist. My general impression is that artists, whether writers or painters or sculptors or musicians, tend to be inner-directed people. And I wonder if you've done enough self-analysis to decide that that's who you are?

GIOVANNI: I think I'm a little greedy. You know, first of all, I think all artists are. I think writers, because we're such a bottom line, and I'm always teasing because I have a lot of friends who are actors and actresses. But they're always using our words. And I think the only other equivalent to writers -- particularly maybe a poet -- would be the dancers, because you just so have to believe in your vision. I mentioned knowing George Faison. Of course, I know Judith Jamison, and I knew Alvin Ailey. You're saying, "I have this vision in my head of this dance. I'm going to call it 'Cry.' " And everybody's going to say it won't work. And they do that to poetry. And so you get in the habit of saying, "Well, I think I'll try it anyway." What you end up doing is taking it to the people, which is I think the better way to deal with it. I could never have been a fine -- you know, I was laughing, but I never could have been a fine painter because you actually take that work to the gallery and it gets sold to a very small number of people and every now and then, you know, you'll do note cards or something. But I always wanted to be judged by the people.

BOND: But the same thing happens with poetry, in a different sort of way. You write a poem. You take it to the publisher or a book, a journal. They publish the poem. A relative small number of people see it and buy it.

GIOVANNI: Well, no, you have readings.

BOND: You have readings. You appear. You have recordings.

GIOVANNI: And if nobody is -- if nobody wants to publish it you take it and do a broadside. Or you give it away. When Angela Davis was being arrested I knew Fania [Jordan], her sister, was in the Village. When they were looking for Angela at that particular point, we wrote a poem -- you know, because we were doing some fund raising -- I wrote a poem for Angela Yvonne Davis. Charles Bible illustrated it. We took it down to a printer, and we had you know like two or three thousand copies selling for a dollar. Gave the money to Fania. So, you can get around publishers.

Even if you're a novelist you're going to have another problem because you've got five hundred pages. For a poem you can always reach your audience with a poem. You can go on the radio. In those days you know people were -- FM was new and everything was AM. So you needed to break AM. But you could go on AM radio and talk about what you've been writing because they would let you fill it in. They'd let you do it. Go on radio at midnight and read your poetry. So you could always find your audience.