Frank X Walker Frank X Walker: 2013 Writer-in-Residence

2015 schedule of events

Friday, October 2

5:00 p.m. “After Obama: An Assessment of Post-Obama America and the Racial Divide,” Panel Discussion among African Americans in the community, Robert C. Byrd Center for Legislative Studies.

7:00 p.m. Screening of Angela Bassett in The Rosa Parks Story, Shepherdstown Film Society, discussion to follow in Reynolds Hall with Dr. Julia Sandy.

Monday, Ocotober 5

7:00 p.m. “Civil Rights, Human Rights” Lecture/Discussion with Dr. Julia Sandy, Robert C. Byrd Center for Legislative Studies

Tuesday, October 6

7:00 p.m. “A Celebration of Appalachian Storytellers and a Musical Interlude by Kaziah White on the Poetry of Frank X Walker, ‘Ambiguity over the Confederate Flag’: The Anthology of Appalachian Writers, Homer Hickam Volume VII,” Robert C. Byrd Center for Legislative Studies, the event sponsored by The WV Center for the Book and The Shepherd University Foundation; Anthology Reception following the event, Scarborough Library Reading Room

Wednesday, October 7

9:30 a.m. Visit with Martinsburg, Jefferson, and Berkeley Springs students at Martinsburg High School.

11:00 a.m. Nikki Giovanni Reading at Martinsburg Public Library and Reception.

7:00 p.m. "The Writing Life, with Nikki Giovanni," Robert C. Byrd Center for Legislative Studies (Giovanni discusses her work, the writing process, her journey toward authorship and publication)

Thursday, October 8

Noon Lunch with Senior Moments Book Club

3:00-4:30 p.m. Writers Master Class, Robert C. Byrd Center for Legislative Studies

8:00 p.m. Scarborough Society Lecture and Awards Ceremony at Erma Ora Byrd Hall (Nikki Giovanni receives the Appalachian Heritage Writer's Award and presents her Scarborough keynote address, “Chasing Appalachia, Looking for Home,” followed by reception and book signing. The WV Fiction Competition awards will be presented by Giovanni.

Friday, October 9

7:00 p.m. Old-time Stories from Appalachia with Ballad Singer and Storyteller Sheila Kay Adams, Robert C. Byrd Center for Legislative Studies 8:00 p.m. Appalachian Square Dance, King Street.

Saturday, October 10

Appalachian Heritage day-long Festival and 8:00 p.m. Concert. at Frank Theater.

Nikki Giovanni Biography

Nikki Giovanni was born in Knoxville, Tennessee, and grew up in the all-black neighborhood of Lincoln Heights in Cincinnati, Ohio. Her summers were spent at her grandparents’ home in Knoxville, where she eventually moved to attend high school. Encouraged to become part of an early matriculation program at seventeen, Giovanni attended Fisk University, her grandfather’s alma mater, from which she graduated in 1967. Giovanni came from a family of teachers who valued education and expected their children to follow in grandparents’ (John Brown and Emma Lou Watson) and parents’ (Gus and Yolanda Giovanni) footsteps and get university degrees.

From the beginning, “Nikki,” as her sister Gary christened her eschewing the “Yolande Cornelia Giovanni, Jr.” her parents officially named her, was cast as an original and the mold then discarded. As a child, she was a risk taker, highly intelligent, immensely creative, charismatic, and a lover of language. Influenced by her fiery, outspoken and free-thinking grandmother Emma Lou, Giovanni became a singular, individualistic child—her mentor and middle school teacher Sister Althea Augustine writing of her: “. . . she was a brilliant, precocious child, an avid reader and independent thinker and doer. She would come to school at her convenience and leave the same regardless of school regulations” (qdt. in Virginia Fowler’s Nikki Giovanni, A Literary Biography). Early on Giovanni became fascinated by the grace, intrepidity, and shear stamina of her people in the face of social injustice, and it was clear that no common path would be hers.

After graduating from Fisk, Giovanni published her first book, Black Feeling Black Talk (1967), and after a short stint in the Social Work program at the University of Pennsylvania and another at the School of Fine Arts at Columbia University in an MFA program where she was told she couldn’t write, she moved to New York where she settled into what she knew very well she could do better than anyone else and soon made a name for herself as part of the Black Arts Movement. It took only the public’s becoming aware of her now two collections of poetry (Black Judgment 1968) for her to be embraced as a new kind of American poet, not obscure and university pampered but a poet of the people. Black Feeling, Black Talk sold over 10,000 copies while Giovanni was organizing for the Black Arts Movement and living in New York; that exposure and the interest of the New York Times was all it took for Giovanni to begin to make a name for herself. During the 1970s, she co-founded a publishing company, NikTom, Ltd, that encouraged and published African American women writers, among whom were Gwendolyn Brooks, Margaret Walker, and Mari Evans. Giovanni had become a cultural and literary force to be reckoned with.

Over the years since, Giovanni has been incredibly prolific, publishing more than thirty volumes of nonfiction, poetry, books for children, and essays. Her autobiography, Gemini, was a finalist for the National Book Award; Love Poems, Blues: For All the Changes, Quilting the Black-Eyed Pea, and Bicycles were significant in garnering for her a number of NAACP Image Awards. Giovanni was recipient of the Rosa Parks Woman of Courage Award and the Langston Hughes Medal for Outstanding Poetry. In 2004, she was nominated for a Grammy for her poetry collection on CD, Nikki Giovanni Poetry Collection. Today, Giovanni holds the Distinguished Professor in English position at Virginia Tech.

Giovanni’s poetry is immensely accessible and very much informed by the oral tradition. From volume to volume, the reader can discern an evolution of thought and a range of subjects but always there has been a consistent, distinctive, and recognizable voice. That voice speaks to the real and to the moment, being at the same time both topical and true to the African American experience and heritage with its complex and distinctive history—consistent with what one would expect from a writer whose craft was honed in the Black Arts Movement of the 1970s. Reading Giovanni, one is submerged in such immediacy and truth that the colloquial language she purposefully employs belies the complexity and profundity of her ideas. The end product, however, is that her poetry is immensely accessible, likable, and memorable, even as she slips a thought or a phrase that smacks one to the heart’s core.

Giovanni is unapologetically political, deeply defiant, and as one critic has written “unabashedly Afrocentric.” And yet, lost in that voice and consumed by such a genuine personality, one is seduced by its authenticity and the empathy that emanates from her words. Her poems deal with gender topics, re-visioning the Black family, social injustice, the everyday and everyway of Black life, art, and poetry. Whether we are Black, White, or somewhere in between, she makes us do a double-take on our accepted ideas about convention and the way we think things are. For example, her volume Love Poems (1997) is essentially an elegy for Tupac Shakur. Writing about her “hip-hop” apologia, she has said that she would “rather be with the thugs than the people who are complaining about them.” And the discerning reader feels likewise.

While there is no denying Giovanni’s feminism—her brilliant dialectic and dialogue with James Baldwin providing a superb example—she is “large” enough in “the multitudes she contains” to concede to ideas that stretch her own understanding; and some of her most brilliant and touching poems have been in defense of Black men (“Beautiful Black Men”). She uses the English language which she admits “isn’t a good language to express emotion” and consumes us with emotion (“My House” line 30). Her poetry is informed by the spirituals, jazz, and blues that have come from the Black experience, and indeed one of her best CDs, Truth Is On Its Way, is a marriage of poetry and ethnic American music that gives one both an African and an Appalachian American experience.

Giovanni has said that the ability of her people to survive, to thrive, to profoundly influence American culture and the literary landscape, and to prevail in the racially charged and polarized culture that is America has fascinated her from the beginning, and as we read her vast and fearless canon, we are equally enthralled.