Arts & Issues program coordinator Grant Andree said he was pleased to welcome Giovanni to the campus. The faculty coordinated some of the visiting artists with the Year of the Book initiative. According to Andree, Giovanni balances well with David Sedaris’ upcoming visit in the spring.
Andree said choosing Giovanni was not difficult, and was excited to bring an artist with her level of social involvement and passion for change onto the campus.
“She’s a poet and a well-known poet. She’s not only well-known for her writing but also for her work with civil rights and human rights,” Andree said. “In that sense, to bring the civil rights aspect in on top of the literature, I thought, would be a bonus.”
Andree also had multiple recommendations from several sources over the years to bring in Giovanni. These recommendations were the largest component in his choosing to bring Giovanni to SIUE, but he soon gained personal interest in having her be a part of Arts & Issues.
“Because I had received recommendations, it kind of piqued my interest, and the more I read about her the more I thought she’d be perfect for this season,” Andree said. “It was mainly the recommendations, but once I found out a little more about her I was really excited about bringing her here.”
One of the biggest proponents of Giovanni’s visit to SIUE was English language and literature professor Howard Rambsy, the coordinator of SIUE’s Black Studies program. Rambsy believes she is an important voice in present culture and in the classroom.
“I’ve taught 10 years and I’ve never taught a class where we don’t read her work. Every single year, every semester, we’re going to go over Nikki Giovanni,” Rambsy said. “That’s just how it is.”
Rambsy believes Giovanni’s impact on the campus can only be a positive one and will motivate students.
“One of the things I think is so important about her is that she’s one of our most important gateway poets. She gets people into poetry,” Rambsy said. “She’s also going to be just a really important opportunity for people to hear an outspoken poet, particularly she will provide an opportunity for people to hear a really outspoken, educated black woman.”
Rambsy’s admiration of Giovanni goes beyond her creative poetic abilities.
“She’s always this powerful voice for justice, powerful voice for cultural advocacy, particularly African-American culture and history. That’s something that’s always fascinating to me,” Rambsy said. “She speaks out, doesn’t always take the popular idea, but speaks out because she thinks it’s something people need to hear. And even with all of that outspokenness, she’s got that vocal calmness. That’s that poetry aspect of her.”
Nearly filling the 350 seats in the Meridian Ballroom, Giovanni did not disappoint, and from the time Giovanni began speaking, the laughter hardly ceased. Even in the midst of the laughter, Giovanni’s wisdom and passion for truth and freedom shone through, and the audience nodded vigorously in assent just as much as they laughed.
Along with community members and a group of students from the SIUE East St. Louis Charter High School, many SIUE students also attended the event. Mollee Pezold, a sophomore speech pathology and psychology major from Mt. Olive, attended with no expectation of what she would find.
“I had no idea what I was getting into,” Pezold said. “I loved it. I’m so happy I came.”
Senior English major Daniel Trueman, of Elsah, was very intent on attending the event from the moment he heard about it.
“I’m a poet, so I had to come,” Trueman said. “I thought it was amazing. When she pulled out the ‘Thug Life’ tattoo, I nearly fell on the floor.” Trueman was referring to Giovanni’s tattoo in honor of Tupac Shakur.
Senior English major Jeremiah Driver, of Delhi, Ill., also felt compelled to attend because he is a writer. As a poet for the last five years, he attended the Association of Writers & Writing Programs conference in Chicago and saw Giovanni there. He was glad for an opportunity to hear her speak again.
“She has really good ideas about a poet’s role and purpose, and she’s a very refreshing voice,” Driver said.
Giovanni is one of few voices calling for change in the American culture and simultaneously empowering people to do it, according to Andree, Rambsy, and others who admire her work. Andree was excited to have that voice on the SIUE campus. He felt that the event went well and was glad Giovanni’s message was conveyed.
“I think her point of view — where the individual can make a real impact in the world — can be something any of us can take away and be inspired by,” Andree said.
For information on upcoming Arts & Issues events visit siue.edu/artsandissues.
SIUE’s Arts & Issues program provided an opportunity for community members to laugh, learn and dream of rockets to Mars with poet, activis…