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Poet Nikki Giovanni On "Chasing Utopia"

OPB | Feb. 21, 2014 12:30 p.m. | Updated: Feb. 21, 2014 2:06 p.m.

courtesy of Harper Collins

Nikki Giovanni’s latest collection of poetry and prose, Chasing Utopia, will probably make you laugh, might make you cry, and will definitely make you hungry. Giovanni takes on topics both personal — cooking with her mother and grandmother — and political — American slavery and the hazing death of drum major Robert Champion.

This is Giovanni’s 14th collection of poetry over her long career. She calls it a hybrid, because in addition to her typically nimble poems, she includes evocative, memoir-like prose. Many of the memories she draws on involve her mother, who passed away in 2005.

In a prose piece called “Mrs. Scott,” Giovanni vividly recalls her first day of school:

I have to tell you I was skeptical. What could be better than staying at home with Mommy? I poked around with my breakfast while Gus and Gary were telling me how much I would enjoy school. I still don’t trust it when people are excited about you doing something. Oh you’ll love it they say knowing full well this will cut your heart out.

Her family’s passion for food comes through in poems like “Biscuits: Dropped or Baked” or “Artichoke Soup,” which starts this way:

let me die
in a bowl
of artichoke soup
from Guy Savoy
surrounded by garlic
cloves and zucchini
blossoms

Have you read Nikki Giovanni’s work? What questions do you have for her?

Nikki Giovanni will be reading at Powell’s Books at Cedar Hills Crossing 7pm Friday.

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