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Poet Nikki Giovanni to serve as 2024 Commencement speaker

Nikki Giovanni

Nikki Giovanni, a world-renowned poet, writer, commentator, activist, and educator, will serve as Randolph College’s 2024 Commencement speaker.

The ceremony will take place at 9 a.m. on May 5 in WildCat Stadium.

“Nikki is truly an American treasure, and one of the world’s most acclaimed poets,” said President Sue Ott Rowlands. “It was my pleasure to work with her during my time at Virginia Tech, and I am thrilled to have her come to Randolph as our Commencement speaker.”

A leader in the Black Arts Movement, Giovanni has published more than two dozen collections of poetry, essays, and anthologies, written several works of nonfiction and children’s literature, and taught all over the country, most recently at Virginia Tech, where she was named a University Distinguished Professor in 1999.

She is also the recipient of a wide range of awards, including the 2022 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, the inaugural Rosa L. Parks Woman of Courage Award, the American Book Award, the Langston Hughes Award, the Virginia Governor’s Award for the Arts, the Emily Couric Leadership Award, and a Literary Excellence Award.

The Library of Virginia honored Giovanni with its Literary Lifetime Achievement Award in 2016 and, this fall, with its highest honor, the Patron of Letters Degree, which recognizes individuals who have made significant contributions to the fields of history, library science, the literary arts, or archival science.

Born in Knoxville, Tennessee, in 1943, Giovanni grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio, and earned a history degree from Fisk University in 1968. She published her first book of poetry, Black Feeling Black Talk, not long after, and eventually used the money made from sales, along with a grant from the Harlem Arts Council, to privately publish her second volume, Black Judgement.

She has continued to explore race, gender, sexuality, and the African American family in her work. Her autobiography, Gemini, was a National Book Award finalist in 1973.

“Nikki Giovanni is an important icon in the Black American community,” Michèle Stephenson, who directed the documentary Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project, told Virginia Tech this fall. “She embodies the spirit of creating provocative counternarratives that have impacted and inspired the Black diaspora over decades. Nikki’s ability to challenge conventional norms of how we see the world and ourselves is exceptional.”

Stephenson’s film, which features home movies and photographs, archival footage, and interviews, won the Grand Jury Prize for U.S. Documentary at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival and will be screened in theaters this fall to qualify for Oscar contention.

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