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LISTEN: Poet Nikki Giovanni's Story Of Her Grandmother's Grits

courtesy of the artist

Poet Nikki Giovanni's career spans five decades. A writer, activist and teacher, she's published more than 30 books of poetry and non-fiction as well as children's literature. 

"As a creative writer, I think, there are things you have to let go," Giovanni told New Letters on the Air host Angela Elam in a 2015 interview.

"I guess it's like anything else you do — you do it and you let it go. You do it and you let it go."

Since 1987, Giovanni has taught at Virginia Tech University in Blacksburg, Virginia. 

She was born in Knoxville, Tennessee, and grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio. Her family was close-knit; she lived with her grandparents in the summers, and, for a time, in high school. 

Her latest book, 2013's Chasing Utopia: A Hybrid, explores loss and death, through memoir, essays and poetry — including the poem, "The Right Way," about her grandmother's grits.


Nikki Giovanni reads her poem, "The Right Way."

 As Giovanni puts it, she's carrying on a storytelling tradition.

"We are storytellers ... the way that we communicate is through stories," she said. 

HEAR MORE: On Tuesday, April 4, at 6 pm, Giovanni presents "Poetry: A New Conversation" at Woodruff Auditorium in the Kansas Union on the campus of the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas. And on Thursday, April 6, she gives a public reading at 7 p.m. at Potter Hall Theater on the campus of Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph, Missouri.

New Letters on the Air, public radio's longest-running literary program, is produced by New Letters magazine at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Listen to the entire interview with Nikki Giovanni here

Angela Elam is the producer and host of New Letters on the Air, and Jamie Walsh is the assistant producer. You can follow the show on Twitter at @NewLettersRadio.

Laura Spencer is an arts reporter at KCUR 89.3. You can reach her on Twitter at @lauraspencer.

Angela Elam, producer/host of UMKC's literary radio show New Letters on the Air has worked in public radio since 1988, but she got her start as a reader for Radio Deutsche Welle in Cologne, Germany in 1981.
Kansas City is known for its style of jazz, influenced by the blues, as the home of Walt Disney’s first animation studio and the headquarters of Hallmark Cards. As one of KCUR’s arts reporters, I want people here to know a wide range of arts and culture stories from across the metropolitan area. I take listeners behind the scenes and introduce them to emerging artists and organizations, as well as keep up with established institutions. Send me an email at lauras@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @lauraspencer.
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